In a quiet neighborhood a mere block away from one of L.A.'s corridor of art galleries, specialty stores and famous restaurants sits the home of painter Josh Petker. L.A. Weekly stopped by on gloomy Tuesday morning to tour his studio and preview some pieces for his upcoming exhibit “Between Butterflies,” which opens at Corey Helford Gallery on April 17.
The exhibit is “a summary of life and death through pop and fashion,” explains Petker as he shows a number of paintings featuring women swarmed by butterflies. “I'm interested in how people create identities for themselves, particularly women and fashion. I have a long philosophy that's sort of post-pop art, but I think it's not post rather it's living pop art. Everything today is so pop-oriented when it comes to identity. Are you indie or are you emo?”
He continues, “I chose the name 'Between Butterflies' because, besides the obvious connection between butterflies and metamorphosis, I read the definition for butterflies and one of the definitions is the feeling of anxiety people have when they say they have butterflies in that stomach. So I chose that name because I had this idea of people finding their purpose and being confident because of it.”
“I also find it fascinating how people are celebrated after they die,” he says as he points to his painting titled “Head Wound #2,” which features a woman's portrait that reveals a portion of her skull beneath her skin. “It's this whole concept people have of creating an image and identity while they're alive so as to be remembered after they die. I'm not trying to call anyone out but there are some people I know, especially musicians, who purposefully live extra fast and extra hard simply because they can and because they want to be remembered that way. I'm not saying it's fake but it's definitely something they created to give themselves purpose.”
Petker, a self-taught painter and art history major, painted and wrote graffiti as a hobby in high school and college. “I was always making art but not to the extent where I am now,” he says. A trip to Europe after college graduation exposed him to an infinite supply of art books including a few that featured the work of Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, whose work inspired him to pursue painting as a career. He returned to L.A., got a day job at an art museum and spent his nights working on his own pieces.
“It feels like more of a real job than I ever thought it would,” he says of his life as a painter. “It used to be something I did as an escape. I would work all day or go to school all day and painting would by the thing I did over the weekend but now I have a lot of painting to do, which I'm happy and not complaining about, but I'm always reminding myself to 'finish this' or 'finish that' or 'this painting needs to be done in four days' or whatever. I still get up in the morning and work all day. It's not as free as I thought it would be but I get to do what I love all day. It's actually made me a better artist because I work a lot harder now on my paintings than I used to.”
“Between Butterflies” opens on April 17 at the Corey Helford Gallery.