Roland Petersen

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Roland Petersen

Title: Picnic, 1990 - SOLD
Acrylic on Canvas, 72 x 82.5 inches
Signed: Roland Petersen 1990

Roland Petersen Biography

Roland Petersen (born 1926)

An American painter and printmaker, Roland Petersen paintings have a unique and compelling style. He is of American descent, but was born in Endelave, Denmark in 1926. He has spent more than five decades creating works of art mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area. His most notable paintings are probably the Picnic Series, an annual affair held at the University of California, Davis. The earliest of this series of paintings was first displayed to the public in 1960 at the Staempfli Gallery in New York.


Artist Roland Petersen earned his Bachelor and Master degrees at the University of California at Berkeley. Graduating in 1950, he then pursued further art studies at the School of Fine Arts in Provincetown under Hans Hofmann. He then moved to Europe for six months to study printmaking at the Atelier 17 studio in Paris. This was under the guidance of Stanley William Hayter, founder of the atelier and one of the most renowned printmakers in the 20th century.

In the summer of 1951, Petersen returned to Provincetown to continue his education with Hofmann. Hans Hofmann was very influential in Petersen’s works. You can especially see Hofmann’s influence in Petersen’s works from the early 1950s.

Roland Petersen Art Career

Roland Petersen is not only celebrated as a painter. He is also recognized as one of the professors who pioneered the department of ascent art at UC Davis in 1956. He led the department for more than three decades, recruiting distinguished artists to teach as well. Some of his recruits were Robert Arneson, Manuel Neri, and Wayne Thiebaud.

He also taught printmaking at the University of California Berkeley. At the University of California Davis he taught both painting and printmaking. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship.

Roland Petersen Paintings

Before finding his home at UC Davis, Petersen was an art history professor at the Washington State University. During this time, Roland Petersen paintings reflected a lot of Hofmann’s methodologies. Most of his paintings were abstracts filled with bright colors and dynamic shapes.

When he started teaching at UCD, his painting style shifted from complete Abstract Expressionism to also painting figures. He no longer only painted colors and textures but started to combine these with figures and landscapes.

Soon afterwards, he developed a penchant for the picnic, which will be his obsession for most of his painting career and his trademark as an artist. He was often quoted as saying:

“I could take the tabletop, throw it into the landscape, and then I’d set my figures around it. The picnic seemed to be the best excuse to bring the still life, the figure, and the landscape together. It seemed to be a natural kind of path for me to follow.”

In the beginning, Roland Petersen paintings used mostly oil as a preferred medium. But, he developed allergies in 1970 and switched to acrylic paint.


The style of printmaking that Petersen had was very discernible and unique. He dabbled in color intaglio, a set of techniques that involved engraving, dry point and etching. Intaglio comes from the Italian word intagliare, which means to engrave.

Roland Petersen paintings use this technique to produce a variety of vivid and gaudy colors and textures. His brilliant use of colors creates images that have the illusion of being a photo negative. His creative technique with patterns diminishes color intensity, raising the relief of areas that are not very textured.

Petersen had a knack for abstracting forms, using complementary colors on them, and reducing them to basic but still discernible geometric forms.

Bay Area Figurative Movement

Just as Roland Petersen was starting his career in the arts in the 1950s, the Bay Area Figurative Movement was also starting to form. Also called the Bay Area Figuration or the Bay Area Figurative School, this movement is composed of a group of young artists from the San Francisco Bay Area who chose to depart from Abstract Expressionism, which was the dominant style during the period. The group favored the formerly popular style of figuration.

The movement was divided into three generations, namely the First Generation, the Bridge Generation, and the Second Generation. Roland Petersen was one of the more prominent artists of the Bridge Generation. He was joined by his contemporaries Theophilus Brown, John Hultberg, Frank Lobdell, Nathan Oliveira, and Paul John Wonner.

Roland Petersen Recent Appearances

March 2010 marked the 50th year of Petersen’s career as a painter. This accomplishment was honored in a major show called Roland Petersen: 50 Years of Painting. The retrospective was held at the Monterey Museum of Art in Monterey, California. Petersen himself was the guest of honor at the event. He was accompanied by his wife, his daughter, and the renowned photographer Caryl Ritter.

In 2016, Petersen’s gallery in Burlingame California, The Studio Shop Gallery, hosted a one man show called In Perspective. This exhibit ran from the 22nd of September to the 15th of October in 2017, which was called Six Decades of Painting. Shortly after the commemorative event, a bound book containing Peterson’s major works was published with the same title.