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A Closer Look: Peter Stephens' 'Case for Dark Matter'

Artist: Peter Stephens // Title: "The Case for Dark Matter" // On view in "Amid/In Western New York 2015," through March 15 in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center

Buffalo painter Peter Stephens has a thing for quantum physics.

His fascination with the strange and sometimes counter-intuitive behavior of subatomic particles has overtaken his abstract paintings, which since 2007 have taken on the look of pockmarked surfaces of distant planets, or perhaps the surface of your own hand under a powerful electron microscopic.

"The Case for Dark Matter" is one of several Stephens pieces on view in Hallwalls. It's the quietest of the group, but to my eye the most powerful. Its sculptural form (along with the collection of oddly shaped pieces that make up his new piece "Elements," also on view) seems to signal that Stephens work may be evolving beyond a beautiful, inscrutable fascination and into a more easily readable statement about the hidden systems that underlie every aspect of our lives.

"A Case for Dark Matter," a 2014 piece by Peter Stephens, is on view in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.

"A Case for Dark Matter," a 2014 piece by Peter Stephens, is on view in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.

The box is like something out of a sci-fi film -- it reminded me of the black monolith in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- that's been fractured to reveal some blood-red terror swirling within. In this case, the pattern on the broken section of the box is the same sort we've been seeing in Stephens' canvases for many years, a representation of the subatomic systems and the hidden rules of quantum physics that motivate everything about the physical world.

Deep thoughts, no doubt, but Stephens' art pushes you gently in that direction, throwing in plenty of beauty to distract you along the way.

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