In Neal Peterson’s world, obscure graffiti on a downtown street corner has just as much cultural significance as vaunted Vancouver landmarks like Stanley Park and Science World.
Blending the mundane with the iconic is a cornerstone of his latest artist offerings referred to as urban mandalas, a type of graphic art that falls somewhere between collage and kaleidoscope.
Vancouver is among seven locales chosen for Peterson’s series, which also includes cityscapes from Mexico City, Chicago, New Orleans, Pyongyang, North Korea, Reykjavik, Iceland and from his current home base in Minneapolis, Minn.
“I’ve always been a traveller and I’ve always loved the concept of cities, both from the perspective of how they’re built and how everything’s connected through the infrastructure,” he told the Courier. “But there’s also another level of connection through the people, how they connect with one another and how they connect with their city.”
Peterson’s work reflects centuries-old traditions found in East Asia, specifically the principles of dharma used in Tibetan and Indian cultures.
“The principle there is to represent the cosmos or the universe in a state of harmony or idealism,” Peterson said.
The mandalas are circular in form and hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs are used in the composition. Once the photos are selected, each piece is built from the middle to the outer edges and varying levels of detail are used depending on where those images are situated in the piece.
Peterson’s visit to Vancouver last year was his first, and the shots he used, at first glance, appear to be selected at random: waves at Stanley Park, the Lion’s Gate bridge, graffiti in Gastown or flowers in Yaletown. Happenstance be damned, there is method to the madness in Peterson’s work.
“To me, Vancouver has always been the holy grail of the juxtaposition between urban and natural landscapes,” he said. “I want to hit iconic spots like sculptures and buildings but I don’t want it to be a tourist map. I want the true variety and depth of a city present. I try intentionally to put unrecognizable stuff in there.”
Peterson’s long history as a touring musician and trained graphic artist allows him the freedom to travel and work at the same time. To that end, he’s got Europe on his mind for his next batch of mandalas, which he leaves completely open to interpretation for the viewer.
“You can’t go wrong with simply having pretty pictures in the world,” he said. “If that’s what a person takes away from my work, then I’ve succeeded. But I also believe in art philosophically to really dive into subjects in search of a deeper meaning. In this case it’s that idea that we’re all connected.”
Peterson’s work can be viewed online at nealpeterson.com.