Things are nasty, brutish and short in Cleon Peterson’s world.
With “Poison,” at Detroit’s Library Street Collective through Oct. 15, the Los Angeles-based artist gives us an entire universe of muscle-bound, thick-necked combatants — part stylized cavemen, part Storm Troopers stripped of their uniforms.
Like the Storm Troopers, this bloodthirsty race has lost all individual features, bodies and faces blurred into reductive, clone-like uniformity.
Still, there’s no denying they’re a vicious lot. Swords plunge, blood spills and victors hold dripping heads.
Intended or not, it feels like an implicit judgment: We are all, equally and everywhere, violent and despicable, or at least the males among us.
And when you survey the species’ conduct over the past century, from the 1917 Armenian genocide to the cinematic savagery of ISIS today — really, who could disagree?
Challenged to explain his grim worldview, Peterson says, “I was a heroin addict for 10 years. I’ve been in jail. So I paint the dark side of humanity.”
These vignettes of aggression, conflict and power have dominated his work, Peterson says, for about eight years — pretty much ever since he got his master’s degree in fine arts at Cranbrook in 2006.
“I try to capture the ignored part of the culture,” says the Seattle native, noting that before hitting on his idealized cavemen he used to paint “city scenes with lots of deviance going on.” He smiles.
Accompanying the large black-and-white canvases are a smaller number of lustrous black and gold sculptures, 3-D reproductions of the roiling combat in nearby paintings.
The metal sculptures have an appealing, shimmering brightness, though here the blurred-out features — which work well in a painting — make the forms a little hard to read.
Still, this is an affecting show. Some might read a certain warped humor in the non-stop carnage, but mostly this exhibition is likely to confirm your worst suspicions about humanity.
‘Poison’ by Cleon Peterson
Through Oct. 15
Library Street Collective, 1260 Library, Detroit
Noon-6 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday
(313) 600-7443, lscgallery.com