He Left Behind California Stars to Embrace Asheville Skies

Christopher Peterson used to paint posters for rock stars. Now he captures mountain-city culture.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

When he lived in Northern California, Christopher Peterson played bass and guitar in The Thirsty Cats, a band he says was “… very big for about a year in a five-block area of North Berkeley.” But the instrument he wielded to find his groove is a paintbrush, which the artist has used — among other artistic tools — to create more than 150 posters for San Francisco’s iconic Fillmore Auditorium. “That has been a career-defining client for me,” he says. So much so that in 2021, his poster for Wilco at the Fillmore in July 2000 was named one of Paste magazine’s Ten Best Rock Concert posters. 

Asheville Skies 1

While the rock posters, now collectibles, may define his career success, they don’t confine his work. He’s also amassed a prolific collection of oil-on-canvas urban landscapes, as well as “people and things” often taken from the photo reconnaissance he conducts in and around Asheville. These include unusual bird’s-eye scenes as seen in Asheville Skies 1 and 2 and Aerial Moms, the latter an almost cubist/impressionist take of mothers walking with their children. 

Aerial Moms

It all began with a pencil and a sketchpad at the kitchen table when he was a boy in Connecticut, spending hours with a like-minded friend drawing buildings, cars, and airplanes. “Illustration was really in its heyday then, and that led me to art school [in the early ’80s],” he says. Peterson studied at the Art Institute of Boston and the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, then came to Manhattan as scores of young, aspiring illustrators did at the time. “I dragged my portfolio around like a rug salesman,” he remembers. The New York Times was among the first media outlets to contract with him and he built a solid body of work, which he transferred to the San Francisco Chronicle on the West Coast, where he settled in with his young family. 

Wilco

In 1995, he painted his first rock poster for a John Hiatt show at the Fillmore. “The way those gigs work is, you get a paltry fee, two tickets for the show, your original art and a pile of posters to sell on what is a very strong after-market for posters — which makes up for the paltry fee,” he explains with a laugh. 

Patton Ave Sunset 2

He also rented studio space and began painting seriously. “It’s always been part of what I do. Painting helps inform my illustrations and vice versa.”

Marshall

Weary of the Bay Area lifestyle, he was drawn to Western North Carolina a few years ago by the natural beauty and quality of life; an uncle, sister, and now fiancée living in Asheville; and the opportunity to dive deeper into painting. “When I paint, I’m not so much shooting for a subject matter as much as a mood,” he says. “I’m not a realist. There’s a lot of visible brush stroke in my work. I like to remind the viewer they’re looking at a painting.”  

Little House Winter Light

Christopher Peterson, Asheville. Peterson’s paintings are represented by Sky + Ground Contemporary Art (Riverview Station, 191 Lyman St. #265 in the River Arts District, skygroundart.com). For more information and online purchasing, see christopherpetersonfineart.com (illustrations, drawings, and posters are at petersonland.com).

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