all that jazz
Lori Joy Peterson found her voice as an artist through jazz.
Now new subjects are helping her rhythmic style take flight.
By Emory Rakestraw
THE music of Miles Davis can transport the listener to a relaxed yet sponta-neous
state, gliding wherever the tune might land. On the opposite end of
the spectrum, sitting in nature can lead to hearing the earth’s own music — a
chorus of birds, the melody of the wind.
For artist Lori Joy Peterson, both “genres” equally inspire her body of work
that ebbs and flows, much like her subjects and influences.
Peterson discovered painting in her late 20s after a particularly challenging health
battle. After initially focusing on realism, she unearthed her true style following a water-color
class taught by Betty Brown at Cameron Art Museum. Today, a looseness takes
precedence in her watercolor and acrylic paintings through elongated brushstrokes and
splashes of color.
“Watercolor is very free,” she says. “At first, I was struggling. Betty kept telling us, ‘You
have to loosen up.’ Even in our drawings, her method that she taught us was to do a free
sketch to start. Painting also helped me get my mind off things. It was like a diversion.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself and saying, ‘Why me?’ I started saying, ‘Why not me?’”
It wasn’t until Peterson’s father passed away that she decided to turn to jazz art and
really listen to the style through her own perspective instead of what was played in the
house during her childhood.
“I listened to jazz growing up but did not like it. I think maybe, I wasn’t listening to my
style because it was my father’s music. Once I started listening to it, I loved it. Some of
my favorite artists include Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane,”
she says. “When I do my jazz paintings, I listen to jazz; the brushstrokes are to the beat of
While her accolades include the 2013 Wilmington Art Association’s featured cover art-ist,
her “Queens in Motion” solo exhibition in 2018, and being a featured artist at the North
Carolina Jazz Festival, Peterson’s first forays into the art world weren’t met with immedi-ate
success. Her early recollections include critiques and a lot of rejection.
Yet, instead of taking the negativity and letting it become her, she asked how she
could get better. Self-taught, she sought improvement through classes on color theory
and plenty of at-home trial-and-error.
One thing Peterson sticks to is her mantra of painting every day.
“When I first started, I would search for opportunities,” she says. “I encountered a lot of
rejection, but I’m stubborn. In my mind, I knew I was going to be an artist. A lot of gallery
owners would tell me I wasn’t ready, so I’d ask why. I still paint every day. I’ll come up
with an idea, I’ll sketch it out and really think about it. Since I’ve already thought about it,
it won’t take me hours to paint. I’ve already spent hours sketching it and sometimes the
ideas just come to me, and I’ll run with them.”
In her painting of Miles Davis, there’s stark splashes of red and bursts of black. Davis is
focused on what he does best — playing the trumpet. The viewer can easily imagine the
sounds of a slow burning trumpet and the soothing background of a piano and drumbeat.
Artist Lori Joy Peterson finds inspiration and subject matter in jazz music.
74 february 2022