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Audiophiles as Artists - Greg Petan

03-24-2019 | By Editors at Positive Feedback | Issue 102

Twenty questions with an audiophile who is also an artist. For this premiere, we feature our own writer, Greg Petan.

Tell us about your background?

I grew up in Evanston, IL. My father was a jazz pianist and middle school teacher and principal. He had a regular Saturday night gig at the Playboy Mansion for 20 years. I went to the American Academy of Art, a rigorous atelier style school of art centered around the fundamentals of drawing from life and a variety of techniques. My Life drawing teacher, to whom I refer to as "The Great Bill Parks," was of direct lineage of the teachings of John Singer Sargent. I majored in illustration and went on to work on countless Ad campaigns, such as Corona beer, Coca Cola, McDonalds and Ford Motor. After 20 years of illustration I went into the fine arts. I also played bass in a metal band for 10 years.

What's integral to the work of an artist?

To explore, whether painting, drawing, or sculpting, whatever images or ideas excite you and draw out your passion. I also believe in the mastery and understanding the materials or mediums used, and developing the "language" of technique.

Developing a kind of empathy and deep understanding of nature's laws is important. Once these laws are understood, they can be broken far more effectively if you choose too.

Why do you do what you do?

Because there was no Plan B. I had no trust fund to distract me, I was clearly not going to be a scientist or mathematician. I was a decent bass player, but it was always drawing and painting that excited me most. Illustration was kind of in my blood, and it worked out well until computers came along. I refused to use a computer to render art as the tactile nature of creating art is everything to me. 

How do you work? The process.

That is a very broad question for me as I work in many styles, each with its own way. But for instance, I'm beginning a piece now titled "Fairies, Angels and Beasts". It is an evolution from my endangered species series. It's going to be my family's crest, a concept I came upon from a commission recently completed. I usually gather relevant reference material from all sorts of places. I then begin to design the graphic forms that the images inhabit. After layer upon layer of refinement on parchment, I transfer the image to a surface, usually board, and begin inking and painting. Most of these have been black and white, but I may use some color on this one. I use thousands of crystals in this series as well, applying them last. I tend to work on one piece at a time unless putting together a show, in which case I may plot out the show loosely and operate across pieces.

What has been a seminal experience?

Drawing thousands of cartoon faces for my young sons, trying to crack them up.  Selling a piece from my "Skull of life" series at Art Basel Miami.

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?

"Squint Down!" Bill Parks would walk around the class room repeating this over and over. It's a technique to see past the details in order to understand the larger masses of light and dark, big and small shapes, and how they relate to each other. I do this constantly to this day, it's burned in and automatic. Also reading the book The Art Spirit by American artist and author Robert Henri. A love letter to the magic and poetry of creating art.

Professionally as an artist, what's your goal?

I just want to stay busy. To follow my inspiration wherever it leads. I love doing private commission work and hope to develop the "Family Crest" idea. I love getting to know people, where they came from, and what is important them. To create art that embodies those elements is very interesting to me.

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years as an artist?

Having lived in NYC for 25 years, I hope to see myself painting in a 4000 sq ft barn in Colorado, or the Pacific Northwest. I can honestly say I have no idea what I'll be doing artistically…. that's a wonderful huge mystery.  

In looking back, anything you wish you had done differently as an artist?

That's a tough one. I have had a wonderful career, monetarily to a small extent, but more from the angle that I've done pretty much exactly what I've wanted my entire life. My only real jobs were at a pizzeria when I was 17, and a bar at 19. If I hadn't had to support myself from the age of 20, I may have gone straight into fine art, really focusing on figure painting. Aside from that, I wouldn't change a thing.

What wouldn't you do without?

A pencil and my guitar.

Is there a food, drink, or music that inspires you?

Jazz is so deeply rooted in me from my father. As is heavy metal from my playing days. I love good bourbon, and my wife amazes me as an outstanding chef and baker.

Or something else that inspires you?

Hosting concerts in my home has been an amazing experience. It started with SOFAR (Songs From A Room), a foundation that puts young or lesser known artists in people's homes all over the world to perform. The NY Post covered one of our events, big two-page color spread, and we began to get all sorts of inquiries. We hosted dozens of acts, including the Posies, who were amazing, and then Philip Glass. Recently we have been focusing on Jazz musicians and singers.

How has your practice (art) changed over time?

I'm allowing myself to imagine bigger in scale and in complexity. I guess that comes from trusting my abilities a bit more.

What do you dislike about the art world?

Nothing really comes to mind aside from the fact it's so damn hard to earn a living. That goes for musicians as well. 

What do you dislike about your work?

It has been too safe. That goes to where I'm at now, which is allowing myself to imagine bigger, freeing up my mind a bit more.

What do you like about your work?

I hope it reflects some empathy and sensitivity towards the subject matter. I like the fact that I can create in many styles and mediums. It's like being able to speak many languages fluently.

How did you get into audio?

We always had some modest gear around the house, Sansui, Denon, Pioneer, that kind of thing. But it was mostly live musicians coming and going. After receiving my first big check from a Corona Beer billboard I did, I went straight to Audio Consultants in Evanston, where my father took me when he bought his stereo. I was in awe of the place. Hard to describe, it just clobbered me. I became obsessed instantaneously.

Is there a relationship between you as an artist and audio?

As a reviewer, it's inherent in the job to dissect the different parts of the sound from one piece of gear to another, and understand how they relate to the whole, and do it with some level of sensitivity. It's the same with art. I need to break down the elements of whatever subject I'm rendering into its various forms with a deep level of understanding so I can see how they relate to, and create the whole of the object with some insight.

Where can we find your work?

Instagram @gregorypetan

Anything else that you wish we had asked?

What artists inspire me? Rembrandt, Sargent, Monet, Renoir, Caravaggio, Rothko, just to name a few. 

If you would like to be featured in a future issue, or have a suggestion of someone to feature, please contact us through the pull down "Contact" feature in the Header or through this link: Editors at Positive Feedback.

More to come.