Personnel Profile: Mike Petersen

Mike Petersen is a Republican Judiciary Consultant for the California State Senate. In his spare time, he creates abstract and expressionist paintings. He started painting in 2007, and his art was displayed last year. Currently, his artwork is available for sale. For samples of his work, send him an email at

Can you talk a little about what you do, both as a Judiciary Consultant and as an abstract artist?
As Judiciary Consultant for the Senate Republicans my job is to analyze and explain the bills that the Judiciary Committee hears. I enjoy the broad scope of the subject matter. It requires writing clearly and succinctly. Legal “jargon” does not work.  

After 36 years of being a lawyer and a policy consultant on legal issues, painting has few boundaries other than the imagination. It is a counterpoint to the analytical emphasis that has characterized my career. I use my free time to experiment with new painting materials and techniques. I start with an idea and see where I take it.  

How did you become interested in abstract art?
A friend showed me a photo spread of a home, which featured traditional furnishings that the owners had decorated with stark modern abstract and expressionist art. The juxtaposition was appealing. My recently re-painted home needed new hangings, as the old ones were no longer my taste. I decided to try to decorate the walls with modern art but I could not afford to buy it, so making it was the way to go. In late December 2006, I bought some acrylic paints, brushes and a couple of small canvasses to see what would happen when I tried to paint. Due to an injury, I spent the next three months at home recovering. Painting took my mind off my problems and helped me pass the time.  

What are your biggest influences as an artist?
When I was young I appreciated the Impressionists, who were well-represented at the Art Institute of Chicago. Later, I saw a modern art show; it had quite an effect on me. Now, modern art has appealed to me for quite a long time. Once I decided to start painting, I viewed the great modern art museum collections on the web. That generated many ideas. The museum collections led me to many concepts that I use in my painting. Most of them are not representational.  

Has there been any crossover between your life as a Republican Judiciary Consultant and an artist?
In early 2010, I had one of my paintings hanging in my office made of latex paint poured on a large piece of cloth.  A Capitol staffer stopped to discuss an issue. She liked the painting and asked whether I posted photos of my art. At that point, I had not considered posting my art, as it was for my recreation and decoration.  I posted photos of my paintings on a social network site and a photo sharing site. Soon I was showing my art. Of course, I still post it.

Many colleagues from the Capitol come to my shows. The Senate Sergeants have some of my paintings on loan in their office on the fifth floor of the capitol.   

Do your co-workers know about your art?
Sure, they see it in my office. There are sometimes as many as five of my paintings hanging in my office. One of my colleagues has actively encouraged my painting and made many generous comments and creative suggestions. Others in the Republican Policy Office have actively commented on my hobby. Some of them have been to my shows.

What’s the appeal of the bold use of color in your work?
Bold colors are a welcome contrast to the palette of my careers as a corporate lawyer and policy consultant, which are largely navy and grey suits and white and blue shirts.

Rep-striped ties of navy and red are the “colorful” parts of the wardrobe. The colors contribute to the freedom of my art.  I have strong reactions to the displays of bold colors and so do others.

Do you feel artists are usually more liberal than conservative? If so, why do you go against that trend?
Commonly, artists are thought to be liberal or even bohemian. However, that approach seems too easy to me. The artists I know, who do it for their living, might be politically liberal or not, but they seem small-business types to me. They invest in supplies and work hard to produce their art.  Ask most of them and they will agree that is what they have to do, but they probably would not accept the characterization. It seems that people do not take into account at all what artists have to do to produce, promote, exhibit and sell their art. Liberal or not, it is entrepreneurial.  

A very good young artist I know works extremely hard at what she does. People experience her art and appreciate it so much that they commission her to paint for their homes and businesses.   I doubt any asks her politics. In fact, she knows full well what my politics are and without any regard to that has been generous to me with her time and advice for me. I remember, she has told me, “the art must stand on its own, not on its explanation or who the painter is.”

Politics is in art only when the artist wants it to be. I show my work to all sorts of people including those people who know my political views and certainly do not agree with me. Fortunately, many of those same people who have looked at my paintings like them.

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