Friday, August 1, 2008

Essay: Peter Lenzo

The Pink Chair, early 1990s
Wood, buttons, cast porcelain
25 x 16 1/4 x 16 in

By Wim Roefs

Peter Lenzo’s work of the 1990s was in part about dichotomies, both conceptually and aesthetically. In his Virgin Mary Gun Altar series, he combined symbols of Christianity and violence. In his Bed Pan Altar series, the bedpans first attracted Lenzo because of their beautiful shapes, which belied the revulsion the objects trigger with many. By combining the bedpans with altar constructions, Lenzo juxtaposed something sacred with a device designed to facilitate basic bodily functions, although the combination came about for aesthetical, not conceptual reasons. “I thought they looked beautiful together,” Lenzo says. “I liked the soft, succulent, curving lines of the bedpan contained by the rigid, perfect geometric lines of the altar pointing toward God.”

Lenzo began making portable altars after seeing them in European churches and a museum. The main impetus for the work was not, he says, a need to make a statement but his desire to make art that is aesthetically beautiful. “I think that in all art, no matter what message you try to convey, you need to satisfy the aesthetic element first. And if you are building something, you also need to satisfy all aspects of craftsmanship first.” 

He combined religious symbolism with guns in part because of his visceral, negative response to guns when he was younger, a response matched only at times by a – positive – religious experience. Lenzo also saw Christianity and violence, from domestic violence to war, as icons for American society, regardless of whether they go hand in hand. Reading his art as social and political criticism would surpass his intent, Lenzo says, even if it would lead to conclusions about society that ring true to him. “I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or disgust people or make fun of religion. I’d rather have people look at the works as beautiful.”

Lenzo stopped making the altar pieces in the late 1990s. The increased frequency of epileptic seizures brought on by a 1981 traffic accident and the numbing effect of his medication made cutting small pieces of wood on a table saw too dangerous. Lenzo returned to ceramics, creating face jugs and full-body figurative sculptures. 

Wim Roefs

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