Visual Arts

Phoenix Artist Pete Petrisko Posts Small-Scale Public Art on Roosevelt Row

Remind Pete Petrisko that he's one of the pioneers of the Phoenix downtown arts scene, and he'll likely tell you you're "weird." Petrisko's big on insulting people, even when they're paying him a compliment. And, lately, he's also big on public art.

Petrisko has been posting his new work -- high-color photo montages inspired by propaganda posters of the middle 20th century -- on buildings along Roosevelt Row. Then he emails invitations to friends and fans telling them where he's installed his latest art.

See also: Art for Pete's Sake: The downtown arts scene is thriving. And Peter Petrisko is stifling a yawn

"In an oblique way, it's partially a surreal subvertising retort to what I'd been seeing on the street," he says of the work, which includes a two-panel piece depicting same-sex couples surrounded by hearts and paper moons at 382 North First Avenue. "Ideally, though, each work is an add-your-own-interpretation adventure of splashy colors and symbols with a vaguely nostalgic feel. It's sometimes as simple as that."

Why did you decide to stick your work to the sides of buildings, rather than in more traditional ways? I was inspired by posters downtown being mostly limited to big Hollywood movie promos and a way to advertise upcoming local shows cheap. I thought to myself, "We can do better than that, can't we?" With downtown as both canvas and playground, between boarded-up buildings and other empty public spaces, there's theoretically plenty of room to create what city officials just might call "Artistic Infill Development" if smaller-scale, mural-alternative, DIY-inspired public art projects were in fashion.

These days, there are murals everywhere downtown. I've been in Phoenix long enough to remember the city's mindset of murals as graffiti. Thankfully, things change. I'm pleased to see how much that's changed, because it's especially transformed downtown with art everybody can enjoy from more than a block away. However, even with the mind-blowing quality of the murals seen today, that still leaves a lot of smaller space we could otherwise color creatively.

Why street art versus hanging your work in a gallery? First and foremost, out of economic necessity. There's far more overhead cost in making a piece "fine-art gallery presentable." Secondly, there shouldn't be any barrier to an audience seeing darn good art, sometimes made more thrilling when it's unexpectedly happened upon during the course of your day.

Are you the only one doing this small-scale public art? You seem to be. Is this another case of you changing the game "for" us? The recently published It's a Stick-Up calls it an "increasingly popular form of street art" but, with the exception of La Muñeca's amazing paste-up people, I haven't seen a whole lot of pre-prepared paper art here. Then again, I typically don't pay much mind because I'm just doing my own thing. I guess it's a trend elsewhere though. It says so in a book, don't it?

What's next? I'm currently producing T-shirts, and toying with the idea of a Cowboy Art-themed street series, while thoughtfully reflecting on the advice of a police officer who, after witnessing [me installing] some fresh work, kindly suggested, "If you want to show your art, then find a gallery!"

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela