Peter Kayafas: The Way West @Sasha Wolf

JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 black and white photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made between 2008 and 2013. Each print is sized roughly 12×18, and is available in an edition of 15. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Peter Kayafas’ pictures of the American West consciously settle down into the subtle rhythms of small town life. Rather than tracking majestic landscapes and heroic figures, they celebrate unassuming moments of slowed down standing around, at a local rodeo, or a summer carnival, or a ball game, in the twilight, with a beer in hand and kids scrambling in the dust. It’s hot, and dry, and tiny gestures and stolen glances tell the larger stories of these mixed communities.

Kayafas has an eye for clusters of people, where commonalities of dress, or stance, or attitude provide connections, while an undercurrent of restlessness points to small frictions and divergent dreams. White kids in white hats and big belt buckles gather in clumps, leaning against metal fencing and digging their boots in the dirt. Shirtless Native American kids sprawl on their horses, bareback and at ease. Teenage girls parade in perky cheerleading outfits. Bored guys in bandannas hope the carnival might offer a spark of action. Everyday cycles continue.

Kayafas intersperses these small vignettes with lonely found still lifes – a bullet pocked sign in the long grass, a rusty playground slide, a trompe l’oeil brick building billboard on the table flat plains, a bathtub in a shadowy abandoned house. They sit in unchanging, and increasingly surreal, silence, like witnesses or forgotten artifacts.

When the cultures mix (White, Hispanic, Native American, and African American all in one pot), there is a sense of wary sizing up, the glance of one man looking at another telling the tale of separation. For the older kids, it’s less about looking at each other and more about looking outward, in search of something more. They look into the blinding sun, they look up into the sky, they stand apart and look away, again and again, trying to find something that sits beyond the edge of the frame.

I like the gravelly cadence of these pictures, the hidden social patterns that intersect and disperse in nuanced fugues. Kayafas has bottled the modern West with understated authenticity, using the power of small details to turn the personal into the universal.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $2000 each. Kayafas’ work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: Peter Kayafas, Sasha Wolf Gallery

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