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Paintings inspired by rural roots

WORTHINGTON -- Although he currently lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that's not where Paul Peterson finds his main source of artistic inspiration. Peterson is more inclined to depict the prairies of southeast South Dakota in his paintings.

"I grew up on the farm and loved it, but there's this oversentimentalized idea of rural life in art sometimes," he explained. "Growing up on a farm is more complex than what's usually depicted, than the father and son walking the corn rows during the pheasant season. ... There's a lot of heartbreak, a lot of pain. There's a lot of joy, too, but it's a lot more complicated than what people usually see."

Beginning today, Peterson's paintings will be displayed in the Fine Arts Building at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus. The exhibit will hang throughout March, concluding with a closing reception from 7 to 8:30 p.m. March 31.

The majority of the show is oil paintings, part of a series called "Maybe in the Morning." The title is a reference to Peterson's own ambiguous and sometimes contradictory feelings about rural life.

"It suggests that maybe you're looking for something better to be there in the morning, but yet there's still that desire, that hope, to carry on in the morning," he said.

Peterson grew up on a farm north of Vermillion, S.D. He studied at the nearby University of South Dakota but earned a teaching degree at Black Hills State College. Drawing has always been a part of his life, but painting is a more recent endeavor.

"Some of my first memories are of drawing," he said. "I probably started painting seriously in about '94. I just decided it was something I had to do."

The urge to paint occurred, as Petereson tells it, as he was moving back from Spearfish, S.D., to start farming with his dad in southeast South Dakota. When he left the Black Hills area, there was new snow on the ground, but spring had already arrived in the eastern part of the state.

"It was just so beautiful ... and I got excited about painting," he said.

Peterson currently resides in Sturgis, S.D., with his wife, who's employed as a librarian, and 6-month-old daughter. In addition to his artwork and exhibiting at the Dahl Fine Art Center in Rapid City, S.D., and the art center in Sturgis, he teaches art classes and gives guitar lessons. He's also a stay-at-home dad who finds time to perform his music at restaurants in the Black Hills area.

Although he occasionally utilizes acrylics, especially when he has the opportunity to leave his studio and paint on site, Peterson prefers oils, which provide a vibrancy of color as well as texture to his canvasses.

"There's this sense of tradition with oil," Peterson said. "Painters have been using oil for what -- 800 years? It makes me feel more connected to that tradition."

Based on the consistent subject matter of the "Maybe in the Morning" series, Peterson also feels a strong connection to the land and rural way of life. Although the paintings are abstract, they obviously depict farms and farmland.

"I started painting literal landscapes, and at some point, I realized I wasn't showing a complete picture of the rural landscape," he explained. "I needed to introduce some abstraction to give the viewer an idea of what life is really like on the farm.. .... There was no way to show people what a great place this was without changing the way I was painting."

Consequently, Peterson's more recent paintings are darker in content and mood, with stronger slashes of color and heavily applied paint. His best paintings -- at least in his own opinion -- begin spontaneously.

"I think the good paintings are ones that I can start without any preconceived nothing of what it's going to be," Peterson said. "Ideally, I start with nothing and kind of let the colors that end up on the canvas speak to me."

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Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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