Pete Sparber moved to New York in the early ’80s intent on living the life of a starving artist. It didn’t pan out that way. After a few years, he settled into a good, solid corporate job and never looked back. Until now.
“I didn’t have the confidence in my work or the social skills. I mean, I was a painter in New York in 1980, but I was far too introverted to go to parties,” he says in his soft-spoken tone. “I didn’t have the mental tenacity to do that whole scene.”
But Sparber never stopped filling notebooks with endless pages of drawings, and six years ago — while living in Wichita — his stifled artistic energy burst onto the canvas in impulsive, expressionistic paintings. Soon Sparber and his wife were looking to move east again. They recently landed in Fishtown, where the painter has found an artistic home at Highwire Gallery.
Sparber’s first show in Philadelphia, “Demarcation,” opens on Friday at Highwire, with more than a dozen oil paintings and at least 20 drawings. These works are unlike anything Sparber has ever created: Working from magazine clippings, he has placed illustrative, dramatic human situations within bright, abstract compositions.
“When I draw into the abstraction, the abstraction suddenly becomes this emotional field. We see the figures in the paintings but, at the same time, there is this motion to the color — this other psychic thing happening,” explains Sparber. “And when I’m in a more contemplative mood — not when I’m at work — that is how the world seems to me.”