“There is always a visual gag” – artist Mick Peter on his new work for Hospitalfield
HN: How did the Hospitalfield commission come about?
MP: It has slowly evolved from the original pre-Covid date. We postponed for a year, and now we are already there! In a way, this allowed for a bit of control over the monster’s cosmic realignment – I ended up making an order for the coffee as well as the original sculpture order. I was also able to let the sculpture technique be refined a bit and the designs of these groupings have also evolved a bit over the past year. It seems fitting as these sculptures are made in a more ‘luxurious’ way than any before and will be the first ‘drawn’ sculptures I have made that can go outdoors. Sounds like a great thing to me, but maybe it will feel like it has more continuity with previous work for other people.
And how did the Hospitalfield building and gardens influence the work?
The new French-style garden that I love… one of the sculpture groups is there, a sort of traffic island in the middle of the rays of all the little paths that radiate from it. There is also the way the rest of the land is used freely by locals and dog walkers etc. (although you could of course be a local dog walker). It sounds pretty democratic and has a lot to do with Hospitalfield ethics both now and historically. It occurred to me, people are going to have private moments with these objects, it’s beautiful to imagine. The sculptures speak of people and “types” as much as they are a joke about how public art is viewed.
This sense of giving space to private moments is within the whole committee. The café tables are adorned with delicate illustrations inspired by the collection and objects that could be found in the gardens. There are fir apples, flowers, half-played games, and feathers alongside keys, industrial paint, and knick-knacks. They tie into the history and structure of the place while giving permanence to the evanescent – the things that last, the things that don’t.
Much like a fly in amber, the material I used has this quality, the permanence of inlaid objects and delicate things that are embedded in a solid surface. It’s also still my favorite game of flatness, things seen from above that I have drawn that have been etched into the surfaces of the table. This point of view must be fun, everything is to scale, it will be weird and fun to put your arms, phone, plate, etc. above and disrupt / add to that surface image. All of the drawn objects are casually arranged to suggest that they are a moment in time rather than an orderly presentation of artifacts.
Tell me about your work process, your time in the studio, how ideas develop …
So many drawings… several sketchbooks, a lot of research. I guess that’s really normal isn’t it? I tend to have a few strands going, really insanely slow drawings, fast drawings, carvings on carvings, carvings on designs. I do works in groups or in series normally (an attempt to remove this authority or importance of the singular). There is always a unifying narrative or plot or visual gag. For me, manufacturing is another chance to slow down to look at what came out of a drawing. With the sculptures and tables, you fill the work of the incised line with black acrylic composite. It’s a slow process but a chance to spend some time with your image. When you polish it (again a fairly slow tortuous process) the precision of the lines is revealed, it is as exciting as developing a photograph and seeing the image appear. The only downside to all power tools is that you can’t work on your playlists …
People often carry things in your work. In your 2019 solo exhibition To Me, To You at Baltic, Gateshead, a sculpture was assessed, lugged around and moved before its final display in the gallery. In Pyramid Selling at Tramway in 2015, a huge zipline was dragged by a worker and a giant cement block negotiated by two tired technicians. The playfulness around the scale and the ability to demonstrate the weight or physicality of something is something that I have seen in your practice from the start.
I think it’s motivated by a demented desire to transform the whole environment of a show, to really break the proper order of a space. I like to make sculptures on recognizable objects and play with their scale… it means that you feel the “bad” and that you feel the scale and the weight of the objects. Plus you have this weird thing where you navigate objects in a way that matches your terms, your line of sight, so when a character can’t quite grab something, it’s funnier. In the Baltic exhibition, it was all the extended joke, a sculpture with physical weight but no intellectual weight, no authority as it had been altered to make it easier to carry. I hate to say I’m interested in things because it seems a bit vague… but I’m interested in how sculptures in cartoons can be such an effective number for any movement or type of artistic encounter. It’s that loving pastiche thing… a piss with real love for the joke ass.
I am interested in the materials you use; they tend to be quite lumpy and industrial – jesmonite, latex, resin, cement … for this show you are working with HI-MACS which is more often used to create countertops in kitchens or bathrooms.
Taking materials and using them in a slightly wrong way is very appealing. The HI-MACS I wanted to use because of the color density, it’s really weird because there is no grain or texture it’s hard to process what you are looking at. With previous work on Jesmonite, it was more about obscuring cheap materials by using them as coating. This material gives you the impression that there is no frame, no interior. The best way to describe it is that it’s like a stick of rock, wherever you cut it or break it, the image is always very present in and from it.
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