The feeling of stones
Local artist Peter Jodaitis on monuments, history, emotions and his latest work
For Chico-based artist Peter Jodaitis there is something magical about stones. The thoughts of the people who built stone monuments such as Stonehenge, Carnac, and the bath works of Sutro in San Francisco have long vanished, but a residue of deep feeling remains. This feeling is captured in Jodaitis’ recent paintings, now on view at the Humanities Center Gallery in Trinity Hall on the California State University campus.
“I usually work around a central theme. I began the series on ancient stone monuments with drawings based on the Venus of Willendorf,” the Paleolithic figurine of a fertility goddess discovered in Central Europe. In this sequence, the goddess evolved into abstract figures resembling standing stones. From there the bridge to ancient stone monuments was easily crossed. The color in these works is simple and earthy, and the layered washes of color and muscular lines evoke not only the appearance of the monuments, but also how Jodaitis feels about them.
“When I first visited Stonehenge, I expected to be disappointed. I felt it couldn’t possibly match my expectations.” Jodaitis was surprised to discover that Stonehenge was visible miles away as he approached. “When I first saw it I was blown away. It was magical.” He returned to paint the stones and later developed variations in the studio. “I start by working on site. Then I begin to paint variations, slowly transforming the subject.”
Jodaitis moved to California in 1982, living first in San Jose. In 1993 he moved to Chico, where he found an atmosphere congenial to art. “I began painting in 1970 when I was working on a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Connecticut. I quit the Ph.D. and began painting full time.” Thirty years later he is still painting. “I have never regretted the decision.”
The connection Jodaitis feels to stone may be in part personal. One of his fond boyhood memories is of days spent with his grandfather, who carved in wood and stone. The connection between stone and art is still there in this memory of his grandfather that has lasted over 70 years.
“My grandfather was lucky to be alive. As a boy in Lithuania he experienced the oppression of the Soviet Union directly. Every year soldiers would come looking for boys old enough to conscript.” On one occasion, his grandfather’s older brother Peter hid from them in a cave. A neighbor, however, told them where he was hiding. The Soviets hauled him out of the cave and, right in front of his family, shot him.
Jodaitis’ grandfather fled to Germany and lived in the forest and slept in barns until he could get passage to America. The memory of the dead brother remained, and his grandfather passed on the memory by naming his son Peter, who in turn named his own son Peter.
“During the past couple of summers in France, aside from painting, I have spent time gathering stones from old buildings to build walls for a garden. The whole time I was doing this, I dreamed of my grandfather nearly every night.” There is something about stones that connects him to the past, to his own past, but also to a deeper past, lost to memory but encoded as feelings. Such feelings are encrypted in Jodaitis’ recent paintings of Stonehenge, Glasgow Cathedral, Carnac, Sutro and other sites.
Jodaitis spent last summer working in France, where he developed the work for “Other Alignments: Stonehenge to Sutro.”
You can see his recent paintings celebrating stone from Oct. 15 through 31. A reception for the artist will be held at the Humanities Center Gallery Oct. 17 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.