A headline in a local paper’s opinion page about poverty becoming an issue in the 2010 gubernatorial elections caught Dan Petrov’s attention last year. He read the article and contemplated the numbers which cited a then 17.4 percent poverty rate for children in Minnesota. He kept the paper and pondered how such a thing could happen in America, his new home.
For Petrov, a Lakeville artist who came to Minnesota from the former war-torn Yugoslavia, those numbers were shocking.
The married father of two, who has lived in Lakeville for the past six years after a lifetime of studying art in Serbia, throughout Europe, Canada and now Minnesota, recently translated his observations of the recession’s impact on Minnesota into an oil painting dubbed “Vincent.” The piece has been awarded the College of Visual Arts Painting Award and the Ron Merchant Award for Oil Painting at this year’s Minnesota State Fair and is on display in the Minnesota State Arts Pavillion.
“I was surprised by the staggering number of poor people in Minnesota,” Petrov told Lakeville Patch. “It was amazing to see so many people hurting in the recession. The number of children going to bed without anything to eat, it was actually matching where I come from, which can be considered a third world country.”
Petrov’s composition features the copy of the newspaper that he saved with the article’s headline displayed under “Opinion”. The text of the article is replaced in the painting with an inverted replication of Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters”. A number of native Minnesota red potatoes are assembled on top of the paper and arranged on top of a simple wooden work bench.
The symbolism runs deep, even if not immediately noticed.
Petrov said he was both trying to evoke emotion from viewers as well as convey his emotion through his brush strokes, but it depends on the viewer to interpret the piece according to what they see.
“It’s a combination, really,” Petrov said. “I can’t guess what a viewer will see in the painting. Some people will look at it and say ‘oh, that’s fine.’ Others will notice the Minnesota potatoes. If people notice the Vincent painting that’s upside down, they will get it.”
“The Potato Eaters” is Van Gogh’s portrayal of 19th Century peasant life and shows five individuals in a dark dwelling conversing over a platter of potatoes. The style in which Petrov painted his contemporary ode to the Dutch master is also rife with symbolism.
“I painted it in the genre of still-life to emphasize that poverty is a permanent blight on every society,” said Petrov.
Petrov, who has a studio in Burnsville, said it took him about seven sessions of three hours each to complete the piece in January of this year. The artist created a smaller version to test the composition concept and tested the color palette on a separate canvas before painting the final 24x30-inch oil on board work currently being displayed at the fair.
“I very seldom paint social commentary,” said Petrov. “But in this case I think it deserved some attention.”
Petrov said he didn’t think that such a gloomy subject would gain much attentio at the fair.. After winning the awards from among the 2,000 entries for the fair and 320 works selected to be displayed, it appears that it has.
You can visit the Dan Petrov Art Studio in Burnsville at 150 Travelers Trail E., No. 405 and view more of Petrov’s work at www.danpetrovart.com.