Featured Artist John Petrey

Q. First of all, congratulations on being selected as the Uptown Art Fair’s 2007 Featured Poster Artist. That’s quite an accomplishment! Could you give us a little bit of your background so we know how you got started and what you’ve done?

A. I’m truly a product of Southern California. I grew up in San Diego in the 60s and went to Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara in the late 70s. I spent all my spare time riding dirt bikes in the San Gorgonio Mountains, and refurbishing cars and motorcycles (and pretty much anything I could get my hands on). It was great! I’d come home from school, jump on my dirt bike, ride to the end of our street, and go for a ride in the beautiful red dirt.

After college I married and moved to Florida, where I raised my two children and had a successful career as a conceptual photographer, all the while creating art, whether it was sculpture, furniture, or paintings. My children are all grown now, and I’m a proud grandfather of three! (And I’m only 48!)

In the last five years I’ve stepped out of the photography world to pursue my desire to create sculpture. My wonderful wife Peggy and I are currently relocating to Chattanooga. where we have a great new working studio/gallery space in the South Side Arts District.

Q. Describe your creative process.

A. I’m highly influenced by what I see and hear in everyday life. I observe, listen to people’s comments, and analyze the world around me. I store the information in my head, scribble things in notebooks, then utilize those observations when the time is right. Therefore, my art is truly reflective of my surroundings, emotions, and interests.

For instance, I grew up watching a lot of TV and movies, which influenced me and crept into my art. When I view television, I see more than just a show or a movie, I see color, textures, style, emotion…even the sounds affect me.

The current “dress†series is based on the era of television of the 60s, and the perfect “woman†from shows like Donna Reed, Leave it to Beaver, etc.This era of television had a vast impact on the American family. These shows created the perfect wife, mother, child, and family. So, I decided to create some of the perfect dresses–from these perfect women–utilizing alternative materials, taking them out of the expected scenario, and placing them into a totally new world.

Q. Have you ever exhibited at the Uptown Art Fair?

A. Last summer was the first year I showed my work here. I was very fortunate to win a “Best of Show†award from such a renowned art fair.

Q. How would you describe the “Come Fly with Me†dress featured at the Uptown Art Fair?

A. This dress combines distressed copper with handmade paper from Thailand. I love combining textures and colors in unexpected ways. This is a perfect example of how I utilize materials for something different than they were intended for. The dress has both a strength and lightness about it.

Q. What kinds of feedback have you received regarding the dress series?

A. The dress series generally reminds people of their childhood, that perfect era we all strive to relive as time goes by…our childhood and youth. It makes people smile, makes them remember, makes their soul sing!

Q. Why–in general terms–do you think people should visit art fairs? What are the advantages of this environment compared to, say, a gallery or studio?

A. I think that an art festival offers the audience a chance to meet the artist in person, ask questions, and learn more about the creative process, without being as intimidating as stepping into a gallery–although people should not be intimidated by the gallery experience. I want people to go see art as often as they can, wherever they can.
I think it’s also a great way to expose children to art. I love talking with children, listening to their thoughts about art, and discussing what they see. Hearing what they see feeds my creative mind even more!

Q. In your opinion, what is your job as a 3D mixed media artist?

A. I consider the “job†as an artist the same for all artists. Create visuals that make people think differently about the world around them. We bring out emotions in each viewer’s mind, with different emotions from one to the next.

Q. What was the nicest compliment you ever received about your work?

A. It actually came from a 16-year-old teenage girl, who was volunteering at a festival in Denver. The art I was showing was soulful work that really forces the viewer to feel deep emotions (this work is only shown in galleries now).

When she first saw my sculptures, she said she felt “shocked,†and couldn’t believe the organizers had allowed that type of work in the show. She spoke to her mom that evening and visited the booth again over the next several days. She spent time alone thinking about my art, processed what her mom had said, and thought about the emotions it had stirred within her.

The final day of the show she stopped by my booth, handed me a letter and quickly ran off. Her letter spoke of her initial feelings toward my work, how it had stirred up some deep emotions–which had scared her–and how, afterward, she began to “re-think†her ideas about what art is and should be. She wrote of how this body of work literally changed the way she looked at art. She totally loves the work now!

It was truly amazing, one of those moments that is so inspiring to create more…what better compliment could there be?

Q. When you’re not creating art, how do you like to spend your free time?

A. Peggy and I love to travel, and we buy A LOT of art ! My biggest weakness, though, is motorcycles. I currently own five–three vintage “museum quality†racing motorcycles, one current race bike, and my sport bike. I’ve been involved in racing since I was a kid, and it will be in my blood ‘til the day I die! I plan on riding a bike through the pearly gates.

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