Gordon Peers

Paula Martiesian: Knowing Gordon Peers

April 11, 2008

Interview with Paula Martiesian, an active painter in Providence, who has a twenty-year history of involvement with the local arts community. Martiesian became a good friend of Gordon Peers and spent much time with him the last fifteen years of his life. Interview compliments Bert Gallery’s exhibition, Painter Gordon Peers (1909-1988): Transformation During the War Years.

About Gordon Peers

WWII touched all facets of American life and challenged the careers of many Rhode Island artists. The structured and precise painting style of Gordon Peers (1909 - 1988) pre-war evolved to meet the new realities of a post-war art world. The artist did not paint war themes, but looked to the emerging art movements of Geometric Abstraction and Surrealism by the American vanguard artists to better understand his choices as a painter. Bert Gallery's current exhibit looks at the evolution of painter, Gordon Peers, nurtured in a war free art world, transformed by the altered American culture of the 1950’s.

Bert Gallery has over twenty paintings on view, dating from 1938 to 1984. Early works in the 30's and 40's show Peers as a strong realist painter, who was interested in tightly rendered images, exacting composition, and homage to nature. An independent and disciplined painter, Gordon Peers acquired technical and theoretical art sophistication early in his career. He graduated from RISD under the tutelage of John Frazier and went on to study at the Beaux Arts Academy in New York, eventually working for a time with American realist, Thomas Hart Benton.

On December 7, 1941 every American life changed with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II. Gordon was a member of the faculty at Rhode Island School of Design and obtained a leave of absence to become an officer in an army camouflage unit. Like many Americans, Peers adjusted to the disruption in his career, but the war had irrevocably transformed the art world. He faced an art profession that was convulsing with new ideas and approaches to painting. The Bert Gallery exhibit juxtaposes the artwork by Peers from the 30’s and 40’s with later paintings from the 50’s to 80’s. The transformation in color, composition, and surface paint are significant. Peers will not be confused with the more radical and modern painters to emerge post-war in the United States. Rather, Peers’' paintings evolved slowly, paying particular homage to the work of Cezanne, and never relinquishing a respect for sound draftsmanship and the refined craft of painting. His subject matter ranges from still life, flowers and Cape Cod landscapes of Highland Beach and Truro, Massachusetts, actively avoiding war theme art. In the Rhode Island servicemen exhibits at the Providence Art Club in 1946, he showed imaginative paintings of objects and landscapes.

Gordon Peers achieved wide recognition in Rhode Island as a painter and instructor. He was the Chairman of the Painting Department at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Head of the European Honors Program. A member of the Providence Art Club and Newport Art Association, he had several one man and group exhibitions to include such institutions as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Corcoran Art Gallery, Carnegie Institute and the National Academy of Design.

Podcast - Paula Martiesian: Knowing Gordon Peers

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