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Davis, California

Friday, June 14, 2024

UC Davis emeritus professor’s work focuses on Picnic Day

Picnic Day is a staple of Davis culture. In its 99th iteration this year, it remains a timeless way to celebrate the unique qualities of the fine city and campus. In fact, one painter has chosen to transport Picnic Day onto his canvas, and he brings with him his first exhibition in the area since the late 1990s to the Elliot Fouts Gallery in Sacramento.

Roland Petersen, a former UC Davis professor, is one of the founding members of the Art Department, which started in 1956. From there he taught at UC Davis until 1992. Known for his focus on Picnic Day, Petersen’s work defies traditional conventions.

“The subject matter is unique. It’s a purposefully confusing manner; it requires the viewer to think. The way that he portrays a simple subject in a complex way makes the subject his masterpiece,” said Michelle Satterlee, 2010 UC Davis art history graduate and director of the Elliot Fouts Gallery.

Petersen’s work is rife with contrasts that form his unique style of printing and painting. From the way he uses shadow and light to portray his subjects to the mood that his work evokes, his paintings twist standard ideas and show Picnic Day in a whole new light, as well as celebrate the uniqueness of the event.

“Picnic Day embodies the values of Davis: family, friends and reunion. It allows people to celebrate campus and the community,” said Jonathan Wu, a fourth-year neurobiology major and Picnic Day chair. “While the event has picked up some negative stigma, especially since the incident in 2010, we’ve had much more community support in the last couple of years.”

Indeed, Petersen’s works, both new and old, remain an example of the Davis community and alumni being involved in Picnic Day. The theme for this year is “Snapshots,” something that Petersen’s work embodies.

“Picnic Day is an opportunity for people to showcase the university,” said Chris Hong, 2013 alumnus and Special Event director. “The community has become much more involved.”

The Elliot Fouts Gallery’s new exhibition, Roland Petersen: A Journey Through Time, is being held now through May 7 and will have 20 of Petersen’s works on display.

“The show is significant in that Roland hasn’t had a formal exhibition in the area since the late ’90s,” Satterlee said on the significance of this particular exhibition. “He rose to national attention, and has influenced other UC Davis graduates. The works span from 1950 until 2013.”

Besides the exhibition, Petersen’s work can be seen a bit closer to home. Shields Library contains several of Petersen’s paintings, including a large mural near the circulation desk.

BRETT BUNGE can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.



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