Pete Petrisko, one of the few remaining old heads in the local art scene who has lived in downtown Phoenix since the 1980s, exhibits selections from the past thirty-five years.
Pete Petrisko: 35 Years Onward
October 7–November 1, 2022
Lost Leaf, Phoenix
Phoenix is in a perpetual state of transition, but the current alteration towards entertainment district living—the mid-aughts art-party burnings of the Loftzilla effigy in what was then typical downtown empty dirt lots foretold the present circumstances—is perhaps the most dramatic since the 1950s population boom following the invention of central air conditioning.
Pete Petrisko has lived and made art through many of downtown’s changes. His arresting exhibition 35 Years Onward, a tidy show inside longtime Roosevelt Row bar, venue, and art space Lost Leaf, is both an artist survey and—merely by existing and persisting—a counteroffensive to Phoenix’s bougiefication.
The show is bookended on the front end with Nighttime, Cortez Park (1987), a film noir-type black-and-white photograph showing two figures—the human on the left recalls Björk from her Post days, and a mannequin-like being on the right sports an odd marching band hat. Each figure pops out of the frame due to Petrisko’s high-contrast composition. The background for this up-to-no-good scene strangely looks like the night views along nearby Tempe Town Lake, a grand-scale development that didn’t exist at the time this image was taken at the landlocked Dunlap Avenue park on Phoenix’s west side. Heed the Caw (2021) is a bookend of the back end of the survey. The abstract digital collage, healthy on Prussian blue hues and avian symbolism, flexes with the scrawled cursive words “you do not know me my name is.”
The other thirty-three years of material—two-dimensional photographs, collages, and an assemblage-on-glass piece are all printed on canvas and suffused in a high-gloss finish, with some pieces on display for the first time—sell high in the old-timey, whether it’s depicting typewriters, engineering schematics, or subjects in vintage garb set against 1940s-era décor.
How Time Flies (2011) is a wonderfully dizzying kaleidoscope of doll parts, a pocket watch, and nostalgic fabrics. Splintered (2006) shows Scout, a puppet character from the Petrisko-led Uncle Sku’s Clubhouse—a fun-hinged, live-staged, and uncomfortable “kids show for adults” that ran for nearly four years starting around 2006—kicking back in a rocking chair.
The exhibition’s choice of venue is symbolically important. Lost Leaf, a circa-2006 (which is grizzled by Phoenix standards) art bar in a 1920s house, survived a maddening, year-plus process of securing a liquor license and an ownership change that closed the scrappy space earlier this year (for less than a week). Petrisko and Lost Leaf, two DIY spirits, show that Phoenix’s old avant-garde isn’t going away without shoving back.