Limitless horizons

Zaleski’s monoprint ‘Jack Creek/ Fire Suite I’ contrasts red flames with stars against the black sky.
Zaleski’s monoprint ‘Jack Creek/ Fire Suite I’ contrasts red flames with stars against the black sky.

Artist Peter Zaleski compares himself to his hunting dog Chase—he carries around an idea just as his pointer carries a tennis ball.

“Sometime the idea becomes the art,” Zaleski recently told an audience at Cuesta College.

Zaleski’s show at the Cuesta Art Gallery is of large-format assemblage paintings and a survey of prints from the last seven years.

The former Chicago resident has works in corporate offices and high-end resorts stretching from the United States to Tokyo to Cairo.

His current show may seem like squiggles, waves, blocks and small odd shapes, but to Zaleski it’s a personal map of what he sees daily from his Templeton environs.

“Most of my work is abstract,” said Zaleski. “It all has references to nature.”

Although Zaleski said many of his pieces may look the same, he sees distinctions, noting that the markings can all be dramatically different, just as one’s handwriting can change over a period of days.

Zaleski spends 9 to 5 every weekday in his studio, immersed in the presses, special papers and inks that he uses for his archival-quality prints. His work is pieced together, as he determines where the sheets of calligraphic-like markings join the next, paying attention to areas “where the eye might play around.”

Color is essential in his expression: “After so many years, you learn what colors tend to draw a response from you.”

Even the chartreuse of his dog’s tennis ball finds its way into his art, as do the blues of the Pacific, the shades of greens in the hills, the laurel bay trees that surround his home.

When Zaleski realized he seldom used red, his creative juices flowed when he saw some ripe tomatoes.

His images include various series, such as bamboo, oak groves, starry skies, fire and topography. “Even a so-called barren area has something wonderful,” he noted.

The artist acknowledges anthropomorphizing often in observing his work. He describes a grove of bare oaks “sort of like people at a cocktail party” in all shapes and sizes. Zaleski also synthesizes his traveling experiences to such places as the Far East into his art, such as his jar series. “They have a very humanlike form,” with heads, necks and bodies, he noted.

The artist has fun observing his work, describing depictions of seedlings as “vertical gawky lines sort of like young colts.”

Always receptive to new themes, Zaleski isn’t just tuned into nature. “Light passing over a building may trigger an idea,” he said. “I am constantly looking.”

And, like Chase with his tennis ball, “You pick up an idea, you run with it, you exhaust it.”