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Unearthing the Past, Molding the Future: A Conversation with Xan Peters

Local Artist

By Brett Maternowski, Co-Founder of the Artistic Incubator

In the lush, creative ecosystem of Tampa, there’s a paleontologist-turned-artist whose work is as layered as the sedimentary strata that once cradled ancient bones. Xan Peters, known among the digital flora and fauna as @xanosaurus, is a representational artist who digs deep into the bedrock of Natural History and its confluence with Art History.

“My journey? Well, it’s a tale of epochs,” Peters says with a chuckle. “I started in paleontology but soon noticed a connection between how art and history are presented. Those who have seen my work often encounter a lost world of dinosaurs and extinct animals.”

Peters’s initiation into the St. Pete art scene was akin to an explorer finding an amicable tribe. “I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by a great group of artists and a community that’s interested in a lot of things,” they recall. Not one to be pigeonholed, Xan traverses multiple mediums with the ease of a pterosaur in flight.

Art, for Xan, has been a lifelong companion. With a mother who ran a gallery and a childhood rich with artistic instruction, it was only natural that Peters would pursue art wholeheartedly, eventually acquiring a Master’s in Oil Painting and Sculpture. “But it’s clay that feels like home,” Peters admits. “There’s something about getting your hands into clay that resonates deeply with me.”

Their work isn’t just about recreating the aesthetics of a bygone era; it’s imbued with personal themes and a multiplicity of perspectives, especially when it comes to museums and the narratives they choose to tell. “What story is being told through what’s on display?” Peters muses.

Xan’s pieces, often infused with references to baroque art, invite viewers to take a second look. “Small moments and small things deserve attention,” they insist. “There’s always something extra to notice, like the subtle colors in a bird’s plumage amidst the darkness.”

Their personal story is a mosaic of influences, from a grandfather who abandoned his artistic dreams to a mother who embraced them. This lineage raises poignant questions for Peters about what art meant to their grandfather and, by extension, what it meant to them. This inquiry into legacy and meaning is explored through their sculptures, recently showcased at the Folkhouse Collective in Kingston, NYC.

Inspiration for Peters is as wild and diverse as Florida’s wildlife. “There’s unexpected beauty in Florida, both in its people and its animals,” they say, reflecting on the poignant history of the now-extinct Carolina Parakeet, last seen in the prairies they adore.

On the subject of challenges, Xan is candid about the transient nature of their life and the “stranger syndrome” it fosters. “Making connections and then having to leave them behind is tough,” they confess. Yet, this nomadic existence has also lent flexibility and a capacity to bond with new communities.

Xan measures success not in recognition but in emotional resonance. “When someone connects with the mood of my work, understands the sadness and the sense of loss without needing an explanation, that’s the true reward,” they reveal.

In terms of art’s impact, Peters strives to stay open-minded. “I never want to be so sure of my perspective that I close off other viewpoints,” they assert. If art had the power to change one aspect of our community, Xan wishes it would break down the barriers between different ‘camps’ of art, encouraging people to be open to unexpected surprises.

The historical and cultural tapestry of Tampa has been a significant influence on Peters, instilling a love for vignettes and the many stories occurring simultaneously. “It’s like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’; everyone’s on their own journey, yet they’re all part of the same tapestry,” Xan reflects.

Looking towards the future, Xan Peters is excited about the possibilities the Artistic Incubator could unlock. “Acting as a liaison between artists and those who want to showcase their work is something that intrigues me,” they say, keen on finding personalized ways to connect artists with audiences.

As for advice to budding artists, Peters encourages finding joy in the process: “Find your own way to talk about something that excites you. It’s not just about reaching the end; it’s about enjoying every step of the journey.”

And what’s next for Xan Peters? There’s an album in the pipeline with Ghost Modern, a podcast in the works, and a new body of work soon to be exhibited. Xan Peters, the artist who teaches at UT and Art Yard, is a testament to the transformative power of embracing history, narrative, and the tactile joy of creation—inspiring us all to see the world through the lens of art, past and present.

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