Mick Peter creates a monumental cartoon-like illustration for new commision at Tramway

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Mick Peter creates a monumental cartoon-like illustration for new commision at Tramway
Mick Peter, Installation view Pyramid Selling, Tramway, Glasgow, 2015. Photo: Keith Hunter.

GLASGOW.- Glasgow based sculptor Mick Peter transforms imagery derived from fiction, illustration and graphic design into playful installations. His sculptures resemble quick hand drawn sketches which seem to have been cut from the flatness of the paper and dragged into three-dimensional space. Influenced by editorial cartoons or the witty commercial illustration of 60’s and 70’s graphic design, Peter’s works adapt the style of his historical subject matter to conform to his own narrative. His installations combine absurdity and humour, setting up visual jokes in which fallibilities and contradictions of form and style are playfully exposed. During the process of making, Peter’s drawings are cut from paper, folded before being enlarged, a transformation that, like much of Peter’s work, explores the potential to create changes in register, situation and narrator. It is this multiplicity of perspectives that Mick Peter attempts to find in his drawings, sculptures and large scale installations.

Rendered in materials such as concrete, acrylic resin and polyurethane, his sculptures have a robust yet unruly feel about them. Their edges are roughly finished and fuzzy as though the object is out of focus or refuses to be static, an effect which reiterates their precarious status as objects. Peter often theatrically positions his sculptures within large scale stage-like concrete environments or ‘mises-en-scènes’. These concrete backdrops or sets recall the forlorn nature of civic spaces of the past, evoking ‘an absurdist world where things are never quite what they seem’.

For Pyramid Selling Peter takes this process one step further, transporting us into a cartoon-like illustration realised on a monumental scale which takes a satirical look at the role of the individual against the backdrop of industry and labour (the making of Mick Peter’s exhibition at Tramway included). We enter an animated scene in which the sculptures are performing or doing things of their own accord. Blown up to human proportions, a cast of illustrated characters populate the gallery space and appear to be working on the artist’s exhibition, moving around huge blocks in the process of creating an enormous pyramid sculpture. Perched atop is a boss figure who monitors their productivity and checks his sales charts. The viewer enters into this narrative, in which the exhibition seems to be either in the process of being built or dismantled, hovering in limbo somewhere between a monument and a ruin.

On the other side of the space a complete pyramid sculpture functions as a surreal and menacing retail space, a Prada-esque shop display in which elements of the garments themselves, zips, have come alive and strut around the space provocatively adopting the seductive poses of fashion models. A mixture of assimilated references to pop, surrealism and a nod to Robert Crumb’s ‘Keep on Trucking’ they pose, languor and show off on this second complete sculpture. One zip is formed into a giant mouth which leers out at us with a Cheshire cat grin. Coated in red pigmented rubber, notions of seduction and desire are further amplified – this uniform application elevates their status as objects yet also has a homogenising effect, a process which Peter describes as akin to casting in bronze or similar processes which render previously ephemeral ideas, sketches or models as solid, three dimensional forms. The second pyramid seems to be a scene of glamour, display and polished presentation in contrast to the other scene of manual labour, production and hierarchy. Taken together, the two groups set up a conversation between contradictory modes of representation as well as notions of commerce and fabrication.

Peter’s interest in how images and objects are constructed informs his playful approach towards form throughout the exhibition, evoking a push and pull between flatness, texture, volume, depth, scale and different spatial planes. The sketched figures are the same on each side, a mirror image on the front and back, so whilst the tableau is flipped and our perspective changes as we move around them, they are still somehow always located in the flat space of the page. The choice of a zip as a motif throughout the exhibition is also interesting, a reflection perhaps on labour within the garment industry and the slick collaborations between major fashion houses and artists. Yet the zip is also a flat object – and here they seem to be actively flaunting their liberated, three dimensional forms, striking curvaceous or gymnastic poses and willfully taking up space.

In these scenes Peter juxtaposes imagery with structural details, merging bodies, objects and landscapes - zipper teeth become glistening limbs and their steel armatures are bent into anthropomorphic torso like forms. The zip is also symbolic as an object which either obscures or reveals our view to what lays behind it. In the gallery context the open zippers creating spatial ruptures or tears, in other instances forming smiling, outward grimaces which conversely function as apertures. Alternatively they pose theatrically as though on a podium, or are draped lifelessly over plinths. There is a sense that we are walking through a giant sketch in which the characters perform, rest, work, contemplate and as viewers are caught between being passive bystanders or active participants.

Often the environments and backdrops that Peter creates take the form of entire concrete clad rooms and reliefs, echoing brutalist architecture or concrete civic sculptures and plazas. The artist has a genuine affection for these spaces and there is an element of homage in the work, recalling the work of artists such as David Harding and his interest in Swiss architecture of this era. Peter pays homage to these sources in his concrete backdrops yet they a have a stagy quality, their concrete clad exteriors shrouding structures constructed from brittle, lightweight polystyrene, setting up a tension a between real and illusory space. Peter’s work however goes beyond this narrative adaptation of animating objects in a theatrical way, something that would reduce them to props. His sculptures play with applications of literary theory and formal devices in order to explore the limits of the ‘constructedness’ of things.

In the pre-digital era of graphic design which Peter references in his work, any element that belonged on the final page was illustrated or hand-cut, copied and pasted. Peter expands on this process, folding images into new shapes to create the basis of his sculptural forms and characters, which are then cut and ‘pasted’ into three dimensional space. This process is evident in the folded limbs of the workers and other figures, a further reflection on flatness which enforces the overall feeling that we are in a superimposed space, oscillating between the flat, cartoon space of the figures and the real, three dimensional space of the gallery. Reflections in flatness, form and image making are inherent too in the colour scheme which seems to emulate monochrome illustrations situated in a typed layout, at points pierced and punctuated by the bold splashes of vibrant red, as though a wayward blob of red ink has spilled on to the page.

Throughout the exhibition Peter constantly flips the positions of a narrator, fluctuating between artist, viewer and the characters found in the work itself; the boss figure who surveys all, the young girl perched on a sculpture who seems to be reading to us from a book or the figure keen in thought while she ponders a plan of the sculptures. The lack of clarity around the position of the viewer, narrator, subject and object evokes the switches between narrative positions of the first, second and third person within some experimental literature. Much of his work in the past has been informed by experimental writers like B.S. Johnson whose work was concerned with the formal experimentation of the novel, sometimes literally by piercing holes in pages to transport you to another part of the story or presenting novels with loose pages so the narrative could be shuffled around and re-read in multiple, non-linear variations. It is this overlap between story-telling and experimentation with form that Peter explores in his art.

Mick Peter (b. 1974 in Berlin) lives and works in Glasgow. He studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art, Oxford before obtaining an MFA from The Glasgow School of Art.

Mick Peter's selected solo exhibitions include: Porcine Lout in the Mirror Lounge, Galerie Crèvecoeur, Paris (2014/15); Popcorn Plaza , part of Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland, Jupiter Artland (2014); Almost Cut My Hair , part of Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland, Tramway Hidden Gardens, (2014); Trademark Horizon , SWG, Glasgow (2013); Lying and Liars , Collective, Edinburgh (2012); Tao Foam , GRIMM, Amsterdam (2011); The Nose: Epilogue , Cell Projects, London (2010); and The Nose , La Salle de bains, Lyon (2010). Recent group shows include: Puddle, pothole, portal, Sculpture Centre, New York (2014/15); The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things , Nottingham Contemporary (2013); British British Polish Polish , Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw (2013); and British Art Show 7 (2010–11).

Many of Peter’s works are included in public collections across Europe.

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