Figurative paintings of black people
Robert Peterson, "Sunday Kind of Love," 2022, 54 x 114 in., oil on canvas, courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery

Claire Oliver Gallery (Harlem, NY) is presenting “When You See Them, You See Me,” the debut solo exhibition by artist Robert Peterson. Featuring 13 life-scale oil on canvas figurative paintings, Peterson aims to capture time through his art, highlighting Black family life as joyous, loving, and balanced. So often Black men and women are unfairly stereotyped, and fractured family dynamics are what the media and popular culture choose to highlight. Peterson looks at his work as an opportunity to flip the narrative and shed light on the strength, resilience, and gentleness of the Black community that is hardly ever showcased.

“When You See Them, You See Me”
Claire Oliver Gallery
Harlem, New York
Through November 5, 2022

figurative painting of a black man
Robert Peterson, “Crown of Righteousness,” 2022, 30 x 24 in., oil on canvas, courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery

“This exhibition is extremely personal to me as it showcases the balance that I have within my own life as a husband and a father, as a Black man,” states Peterson. “I create my work with the idea of correcting the historical record. In 500 years, I want viewers to see the normalcy, peace, and harmony with my subjects – Black people, and Black families in particular, that contrast with the often negative popular narrative. I want my subjects to get the chance to live forever through my work.”

Peterson’s works explore the mundane as a radical act of visibility for Black Americans, honing his work to focus on the Black family and drawing from his own experiences. Peterson’s monumental oil on canvas paintings depict Black individuals as both ordinary and regal, replacing iconographic regalia with the quotidian, and reframing embellished “crowns” with du-rags and jeans.

His works are homages to the quiet heroism of daily life and challenge the politicized gaze upon Black people. His figures’ skin tones are rendered in rich polychrome: a joyous and exuberant expression of love of Black skin.

Figurative paintings of black people
Robert Peterson, “Love Is Love,” 2022, 60 x 60 in., oil on canvas, courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery

In the past decade, Peterson has evolved from his self-taught origins to exhibiting his works in celebrated galleries and art fairs in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. In 2016, he was the first Black artist selected “Artist of the Year for Southwestern Oklahoma” by the Oklahoma Arts Council. The following year, he became the Spectrum Spotlight Artist of the Year during Miami’s Art Basel.

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