Irving Petlin

Lake as a Furnace...The Black Archers


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Not on display

Irving Petlin born 1934
Pastel on paper
Support: 560 × 762 mm
Presented by Odyssia Skouras, New York 2010


Lake as a Furnace ... The Black Archers 1976 is executed in pastel on paper. It depicts an area of water, the lake of the title, edged by a jagged, rocky landscape. Some figures standing on the shore of the lake, towards the foreground of the composition, can be identified as the ‘black archers’ of the title by the drawn bows they hold in their hands. The work is inscribed with the artist’s name and its date in the lower right corner. Petlin’s ‘landscapes’, such as this one, depict spaces that are as much invented as they are real, as much cerebral as they are visual. They are composites of the imagined and the viewed, portraying places where Petlin has worked and lived, as well as places that hold larger historical and mythological significance. The landscapes are often viewed from a window, and suggest an interpretation of nature which reflects individual recollection and the realm of collective memory.

Many of Petlin’s pastel works are inspired by post-war writers and intellectuals such as Primo Levi, Bruno Schulz, Paul Celan and Edmond Jabès. Engaging in multiple discourses – political, philosophical, psychological – Petlin examines issues such as American involvement in war and allegories of childhood fables, and the visual meaning of place. The artist has described this approach as an ‘interrogation of memory’ that constantly leads him to further exploration. In California in the 1960s, Petlin collaborated with artists including Mark di Suvero, and New York-based artists Max Kozloff, Claus Oldenburg, Leon Golub and Carl Andre among others, to protest against the war in Vietnam. He continued to make politically and socially motivated work.

Further reading
Jeffrey Kastner, ‘1000 Words: Peace Tower; Irving Petlin, Mark di Suvero, and Rirkrit Tiravanija Revisit the Artists’ Tower of Protest, 1966’, Artforum International, vol.44, no.7, March 2006, pp.253–7.

Nicholas Cullinan
May 2010

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