Peter Combe makes unique celebrity portraits and abstracts in his San Francisco studio. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Peter Combe creates magical art with paint swatches

Mathematical in conception and mystical in effect, Peter Combe’s artwork consists of paint swatches punched into circles and assembled into pictures distinguished by subtle, and sometimes spectacular, hue-shifting illusion.

In “Stars & Stripes,” opening today at Andrea Schwartz Gallery in The City, Combe’s portraits of movie icons and abstracts feature his personal blend of science, elegance, mystery and cool.

There are no traditional pigments or brushes in the artist’s San Francisco studio. Combe has numerous plastic boxes of color-categorized ready-made paint samples representing the 1,100-color palette.

His unique method involves appropriating these swatches, hand-punching them into circles of color, and inserting them into bevel-cut perforated backings, so they extend forward at a 45-degree angle. Based on color theory, his pictures have a pointillist look. A custom frame, too, is crucial.

Seen from a distance, the works picture recognizable subjects. Close up, the dots resemble fish gills.

When the viewer shifts perspective in front of the pictures, and light hits the dots, dynamics between the colored sides of the circles and the text side of the circles, and the interplay of light, color and movement, produce a kinetic result.

The apparition-like effect is so impressive that some people falsely believe LED lights are at work, Combe says.

“Tone is more important than hue,” and “all colors go together,” says Combe, noting that he is no fan of color forecasters.

“Stars & Stripes” celebrates the recent granting of U.S. permanent-residency status to Combe, a Canadian-British dual citizen. The show is a 13-work salute to American culture, represented by pantheons of golden-age cinema: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power and Dirk Bogarde are pictured, sometimes with accompanying text.

The abstracts feature zigzag stripes suggesting wavy lines on analog-era TV sets when the rabbit-ear antennas needed adjusting. Here, Combe uses paillette-like circles of color, which produce a pearly, translucent or jewel-like quality. When the viewer moves in front of the work, black and white can become a striking green, for example.

On the surface, Combe’s portraits and stripes bring Andy Warhol’s silkscreen celebrities and the paintings of the minimalists of decades past to mind.

But Combe, who cites painter Yves Klein and the French new-realism art movement, and French new-wave and Italian neorealist cinema, among his influences, takes a hands-on rather than an assembly-line approach to his work and brings to it a significant personal connection. Color theory is involved, but his artistic process also includes less tangible aspects.

“All of my work is about mystery, Combe says. “There isn’t enough mystery today.”

IF YOU GO

Peter Combe: Stars & Stripes
Where: Andre Schwartz Gallery, 545 Fourth St. S.F.
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, by appointment Saturdays; closes July 22
Admisson: Free
Contact: (415) 495-2090, www.asgallery.com
Note: An opening reception runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m June 15.

Artist Peter Combe walks by two of his pieces at his studio in San Francsico, Calif. Wednesday, June 8, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

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Artist Peter Combe walks by two of his pieces at his studio in San Francsico, Calif. Wednesday, June 8, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

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