The real world
Longtime Chico artist looks back on three decades with latest exhibit
While his name is the perfect candidate for the all-too-fashionable, abbreviated moniker of “P-Jod,” nothing about local artist Peter Jodaitis’ work conjures up the soundbite-ridden, glitz-and-youth-obsessed world of Hollywood-influenced media-and-mall culture.
One walks into the sketch artist and painter’s current exhibit and is struck—before even getting up close to study a particular piece—with the sense that one could just as well be in a room full of paintings in London’s Tate Modern or some other such world-class museum. Jodaitis’ pieces—from his utterly abstract paintings of petrified earth, wood and stone to his more realistic depictions of women reading, dancing or just resting—are that good. And as a whole his work emanates a kind of unstuffy seriousness, an airy, calm, soul-pleasing visual and visceral vibe that is hard to miss if one is paying attention.
Focusing from across the room on “Fletcher Lane,” a colorful oil-pastel-on-paper piece done early in Jodaitis’ 37-year career as an artist, I was drawn in by its seductive perspective and abstract beauty. The piece begins the tour of Jodaitis’ world, inspired by literature, nature, politics and the beauty of women.
To the left of “Fletcher Lane” hangs a fanciful work done in ink on paper titled “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” Jodaitis’ first original drawing done 33 years ago (hence the exhibit’s title), based on a short story by Colombian magical-realism writer Gabriel García Márquez. Another notable piece is “Bacon Model at Rest,” a lovely pencil drawing inspired by the work of 20th-century Irish figurative painter Francis Bacon.
“Oaxaca Girl,” a 1984 watercolor of a beautiful Mexican girl with an intelligent, piercing gaze, comes next, just before the comedic watercolor from his 1986 “Bicycle Series” featuring an abstracted derriere perched on a bicycle seat, made when Jodaitis lived in cyclist-laden Los Gatos, before the native New Englander came to Chico in 1993.
Jodaitis is clearly taken with the female form—as much as he is by abstracted bits of sunflower stalks, petrified wood and bones—but his vision of beauty is decidedly (and thankfully) at odds with the thin, Botoxed version of women that this society promotes. Jodaitis’ “Willendorf Sister” is inspired by one of his favorite muses, the Venus of Willendorf, the widely known small limestone statue dating back to 24,000-22,000 BCE, depicting a very ample woman.
The bearded 72-year-old (hard to pin down the youthful Jodaitis’ age just by looking at him) is a self-taught artist who abandoned a Ph.D. program in economics in 1970 just short of writing his dissertation in order to pursue his lifelong passion for making art. ("Relatives told me that as a kid I never stopped drawing.")
Jodaitis stood near “Historic Forms,” a darkly alluring ink-on-paper piece based on the Greek Cycladic figure sculptures of 2,000-3,000 BCE, and shed a little light on his own special way of doing things.
“I bought an anatomy book once for a buck. After looking through it, I decided, no, I wanted to invent my own anatomy,” he said.
Jodaitis pointed out that his unconventionally large, overflowing women—referring to one affectionately as a “triple Michelin woman"—are actually a big hit with many slender women, who appreciate the freedom insinuated by the culturally incorrect forms.
The subtle and not-so-subtle social critic points to his ink-and-watercolor painting titled “The Road Map,” littered with cloth-wrapped Palestinian corpses, inspired by a quote from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and part of Jodaitis’ in-process “Global Gangster” series.
“I’m working on stuff in my studio with political relevance,” Jodaitis said. “It seems I can’t do nothing. It’s no longer an option. The world is such a terrifying place.”