Roland Petersen (American (born Denmark), 1926)
An American Picnic, 1967
Oil on canvas 80 in. x 68 in. (203.2 cm x 172.72 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, anonymous gift1969.1
Roland Petersen, although born in Denmark during his parent’s “extended honeymoon,” is a Bay Area product. He studied art at the University of California, Berkeley, with John Haley, Glenn Wessels, and Chiura Obata. In 1950, he went to Massachusetts to study directly with Hans Hofmann, and then to Paris, where he studied printmaking at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17. Although Petersen’s early paintings were mostly colorful, dynamic abstractions, the direction of his work changed after he moved from Washington State University, where he had been teaching art history, to the Sacramento Valley, where he joined the faculty of the University of California, Davis, in 1956. Thereafter, he painted the figure in addition to landscapes. Throughout the 1960s, Petersen was preoccupied by one theme, the picnic, which has since become his distinctive genre. It occurred to him at a faculty gathering that, “I could take the tabletop, throw it into the landscape, and then I’d set my figures around it. The picnic seemed to be the best excuse to bring the still life, the figure, and the landscape together. It seemed to be a natural kind of path for me to follow.”1 The verdure of the Sacramento Valley landscape inspired his bright palette as did his experience of the dazzling summer sun, translated in the two paintings illustrated here by the heavy impasto that models everything in high relief. While his work is generally situated among other noted practitioners of Bay Area Figuration, in the picnic paintings Petersen confronts issues of geometry and spatial recession, a stance apart from the generally shallow grounds of David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and company.