Interview with Kevin Peterson for “Wild”

We’re excited to be showing new work by Houston-based artist Kevin Peterson in our main room for his solo exhibition Wild opening Saturday, March 2nd.  Peterson’s hyper-realistic compositions create a fictional world in which innocence and collapse are brought into difficult proximity.

In anticipation of Wild our interview with Kevin Peterson discusses the inspiration behind the exhibition, his dream collaboration, and what kind of ice cream his body of work would inspire.

SH: What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? Were you exploring a specific theme or pushing yourself artistically in a certain way?

KP: Just growing up, what its like to be a kid and what its like to think about being a kid. How things change over time and how we change. I like thinking about our world in different stages. Seeing how the things we make crumble and decay. Seeing nature take over when it’s allowed to, but even nature is cyclical. A forest burns down, but it grows back stronger, it’s just a matter of time.
The settings of these always have an end of the world look to them. I don’t really believe in an apocalypse type situation, but it is a different world than what we are living in currently. A new phase I would say.  Things are crumbling, but it’s not a reason for fear. It’s a new beginning, a clean slate. It’s important to remember that change can lead to good. It can make you adjust your trajectory, reevaluate your priorities. I suppose the kids in my paintings are a reflection of a hope that I have that people will learn from past mistakes and face the future with a sense of calm reason. Part of that is re-prioritizing what we value. The work is a vision of a new generation of kids that will not rule the world like tyrants but will respect nature and the world we have.

 SH: Is there a particular piece in this exhibition you feel really challenged you? If so, why and what makes you proud of this piece.  

KP: I swear, every time I paint the portrait part of a painting (especially a kids face) its a technical challenge. It always looks like shit in the beginning and for a long time after. I just keep working it and working it and eventually I get it where I want it. It’s always a battle. I used my son as a model for a couple of these paintings and that added a whole other level of difficulty. It being my kid, I found it extra challenging to capture him perfectly. 


SH: How do you approach starting a new piece? Walk us through the process of a piece from conception to completion.

KP: Sometimes I start with a background image I like and sometimes I start with a picture of a model I want to use, it doesn’t always come about the same way. I work pretty closely with my reference photos, but the final scenes are composites of my images. I have tons of images of urban blight or abandoned places that I’ve taken over the years and I also have tons of pictures of models that I’ve taken down at my studio. I use Photoshop to lay out a composition that I will use to paint from. My pieces are pretty well planned out, but the Photoshop composites are never perfect though, they are a framework. The challenge comes in working out all the details during the actual painting process.  My goal is to create a scene that is both implausible or fantastic, but at the same time totally believable to the viewer.  Just technically speaking, my work takes many, many hours. I paint in pretty thin layers, just building up and refining over time. It takes a lot of passes to get everything how I like it. 

SH: What excites you about your work / creative process?

KP: My paintings are well planned out before I ever start painting. I love every bit of the painting part, but the excitement comes in the planning stage. When I add that element to a certain background or setting that I want to paint, whether it be one of my references of a model or maybe an animal. I can tell the second I put it in there, it fits, its like “bingo!” that’s it.  It sometimes takes hundreds of different attempts to find the right fit, sometimes I never find it, but when I do, its really thrilling and I cant wait to start painting at that point. 


SH: What frustrates you about your work / the creative process?

KP: I put a lot of time into ideas and concepts for paintings that never actually make it to the canvas. I sometimes feel like I’m so close to something good, but I just can’t make it work in the end and I have to abandon it. It’s like having this sort of vague idea in your head and not being able to translate it to reality. That can be frustrating and it can feel like a waste of time, but its all part of the process.

SH: Is there a piece of knowledge or advice around being a working artist that you wish you knew 10 years ago?

KP: Don’t compare yourself to other artists. It’s a hard thing to do. Also, don’t just art all the time, you gotta actually live your life so you will have the stuff to paint about. 

SH: If your body of work inspired an ice cream flavor, what would it be called and what are the ingredients?

KP: You would take a cone with some pure and perfect flavor and dip it in a vat of dirt and grime and shit. Sounds delicious!

SH: If you could collaborate with any other artist (dead or alive) in any art form, such as music, film, dance etc… what would be your dream collab and what would you create?

KP: I don’t really enjoy collaborating. It goes back to hating group work in school. I love film though. I guess I’d pick a director like Scorsese or Terrance Malick or Spike Lee maybe. I wouldn’t do anything though, I’d just want to watch them work. 

SH: What do you think the role of artists is in society? How does other artwork inform how you move through life?

KP: I think different artists can play a lot of different roles in life. All I know is that when I find something that an artist created that expresses a feeling that I could never have put into words but nails exactly how I feel or have felt, that is a really comforting feeling. Knowing you’re not alone. It’s powerful, it’s rare, but its why I love art.

SH: Favorite way to celebrate the completion of a project/body of work?

KP: I worked really hard on this last show, a lot of long days and late nights.  I’m actually taking it a little bit easy since I shipped the pieces off. Decompressing a little. I’m doing yard work. I actually discovered a few years back that I love gardening, even though Im crap at it and most of my plants die. I really love spring,  just looking around town at peoples yards and at the nurseries to see what different plants I can get to replace the ones I killed over the previous year. 

Join us for the opening reception of Wild, Saturday March 2nd from 6 to pm.


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