Artist Q & A: Andre Petterson

1) How was this body of work conceived?

I’ve been taking pictures like these for years. I’m intrigued by product brands and how their placement has evolved as they subconsciously impact our lives. Branding has become more and more globally blended. Every large city I visit seems to be blanketed with names - once unique, now commonplace, regardless of language or culture.

I’m sure I have boxes of negatives somewhere that could be used in this series. Branding is not new but my recent focus on it is.

2) What surprised you most about the process of photographing this brand image phenomenon all over the world?

I didn’t expect to see a man under an umbrella selling candy bars and soft drinks on the Great Wall of China or a girl on a remote island, accessible only by boat, selling melons and wearing a Dolce and Gabana T-shirt. It’s not so much a surprise to see brands in every society, but it’s always a surprise to see how they appear.

3) Travel is essential to your process. What do you get from traveling that you don't get while you're home in Vancouver?

I get a head full of images, sounds, smells that I don’t get at home. I travel when I know it will be warm wherever I go - life on the street, markets, crowds.  I hear other languages being spoken, I get lost on purpose to feel a sense of vulnerability.

4) What roles do ambiguity and humour play in your practice?

I like feeling vulnerable. I like serendipity. People are almost always nice to me and are very accommodating when I take their picture. Humour comes when there is irony. I look for irony.

 5) 'brand' is your first Bau-Xi exhibition featuring purely photographic works (archival inkjet prints) with predominantly documentary/street subject matter. What is it about this mode of documentary street photography that excites you?

I like the immediacy. I like the quick shot, the “screen grab” feel of walking the streets and seeing a gem and capturing it. Sometimes it’s perfect. When the light is right and I can hold the camera steady, it’s a bonus.

6) What is the historical and cultural significance of ‘Kill Your Idols’? Why did this particular moment in time and space draw you in?

I don’t remember seeing the face of the man in the picture. I was drawn by the back of his shirt which read “Kill Your Idols”. At first I read “Kill Your Dolls”. Later after I researched it, I discovered that Kill Your Idols was a 90s punk band from New York.

What made the photo meaningful was that where the man was standing, on a street in Kigali, Rwanda, was once a street that had been ravaged by genocide. The street is now a peaceful place where people co-exist, doing business in their shops and restaurants. It was all quite surreal. On the walls of buildings were hand-painted signs advertising Samsung and other known brands.

7) Is there another piece in the show that has an interesting or strange backstory?

Every piece in this show has a story, not so much a backstory. I look for irony. The piece titled LG is titled so because LG means large. In this case, a size large t-shirt with the face of Che Guevera boldly printed on the front. Che has become an icon, a larger-than-life figure, and now a brand. More interesting to me was that the t-shirt was on display in a high-end clothing store and priced at $830, with the price tag prominently displayed on the face of the shirt.

8) What is the most challenging part of the artistic process for you?

I’m too curious to stay with one subject. I do come back to things I’ve shelved, sometimes with a new approach.

I’m always striving for growth and change. I don’t like the feeling of being stagnant. I’m not one to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  I believe that if you don’t push the envelope, it just sits on the desk. It’s a challenge to not get redundant.

9) How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

I’ve been mounting exhibitions since 1974. I began with making sculpture and assemblages. I began to embrace two dimensional work in the 80s. Photography was always of interest to me. I liked the process of adding photos to paintings, then the reverse. I began painting directly onto photos. My subject matter has changed many times over the years. The process has been fairly consistent. Recently I began to paint directly onto images that I would then photograph to be applied to a surface. I would then as before, paint onto that photograph. One more step in the process. I liked where that was heading.

The future, who knows? Every time I try to answer that, I’m surprised at the outcome. Hopefully, all that has passed will help the process.


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