Unfettered art

Passion and power in the work of Peter Jodaitis

Peter Jodaitis’ 50-year retrospective at 1078 Gallery features 165 works.

Peter Jodaitis’ 50-year retrospective at 1078 Gallery features 165 works.

Photo by John Domogma

Taking Stock, paintings and drawings by Peter Jodaitis, now showing at the 1078 Gallery through Feb. 27. Reception tonight, Feb. 11, 5-7 p.m. (talk at 6 p.m.).
1078 Gallery
820 Broadway

The artist Peter Jodaitis tells a story that says a lot about the way he works. It seems a couple purchased one of his paintings, took it home and then decided to put it in a different frame. When they removed it, however, they discovered another painting on the back.

“They decided they liked that painting more,” he said with a hearty laugh.

Jodaitis is not one to waste paper. If he’s not happy with a piece, he turns it over and paints on the other side. He can’t afford not to. In his 50 years as a painter (he turns 80 this year), he has always worked full-time as an artist and never with sales in mind, he says.

Along the way, he’s produced literally thousands of works. When he was going through the collection in his Chico studio picking out the ones he wanted to feature in his current show, Taking Stock, at the 1078 Gallery, he found 400 that he no longer liked and threw them away.

As it is, this retrospective has 165 paintings and drawings (165!) arranged chock-a-block in what Jodaitis calls “a kind of mosaic,” almost all of them unframed and push-pinned to the walls. He says he wanted to replicate the feeling in his studio, which is similarly covered with paintings.

I interviewed the artist at the 1078 shortly after his show opened. He’s a vigorous man with a bushy salt-and-pepper beard who looks much younger than his years, something he attributes to a lifetime of doing work he loves. He dropped out of a Ph.D. program in economics to make art and never looked back.

Early on, he worked as an artist’s model to earn money for paints and paper, absorbing all he could from the modeling stand and convincing some of the professors to let him audit their classes.

He moved to California in the 1980s, ending up in Chico working out of a studio downtown until he built his own in his backyard.

He is, as he says, an “intuitive” painter. In his artist’s statement he writes, “I have always believed that to be an artist I must, while working, be fearless, totally absorbed, original and full of passion and intensity. The result, I always hope, will be to astonish, disturb, seduce and convince.”

This intensity is evident in the paintings, most of which are figure studies. The first thing one notices about them is Jodaitis’ powerful use of line. His figures are boldly rendered in a manner that transcends realism to create its own truth. The added color, which is only loosely loyal to the lines, serves to enrich the figures while continuing to insist on their imaginative truth.

Jodaitis likes to explore certain themes that hold interest for him. In this show, for example, there are several erotically charged paintings of female figures and bicycles, another series of nudes called “Mother and Child,” as well as a series set in women’s bathrooms.

At least two of his thematic series are based on books he has “read and reread over the years,” Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum. Another, called “Global Gangsters,” is a sharply political series about the murderers, liars and profiteers responsible for America’s disastrous misadventure in Iraq.

Jodaitis doesn’t charge much for his paintings—most are just $300—which means that the collectors who appreciate his passion, intensity and unfettered talent are getting a really good deal.