Interview: Acclaimed British Artist Eddie Peake on his new exhibition
"I want the viewer to be physically immersed in the work, and for the experience to be a notably weird one, an experience that is totally its own new language"
Acclaimed British artist Eddie Peake known for pushing the boundaries on subjects like sexuality, gender and communication, as well as toeing the line on explicitivity, presents his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. From his abstract paintings using spray paint and acid colours, to sculptures of exploring the pursuit of self-identity to images that feature his alter-ego - a faun. We speak to him about his new show and challenging concepts of sexuality and self-identity.
Tell us a bit about your creative journey. Did you always wanted to be an artist?
I wanted to be an artist since I was 18, prior to which I had wanted to be pretty much anything but an artist. When I was 18 I became extremely depressed, alienated myself from a whole group of my friends, dropped out of all of my school classes except for Art, and then almost by accident made some paintings I both loved as finished works and enjoyed making, and so my decision to be an artist was made that instant.The main and ongoing challenge, aside from the usual juggling act between making the work, earning money, trying to maintain a career and dealing with people’s responses, has been a constant battle with depression, which comes and goes.
You’re known to explore themes to do with sexuality, gender and communication. What attracted you to these topics and in your artwork?
I’d say those themes had been dormant in my work from the beginning, but started to become more visibly prominent as both a very natural impulse, and as a reaction to the work I had been making previously, which at the time, around 2003/4 when I was a student, felt agonised, un-joyous and remote from who I really was. Making work that resulted in a weird and ambiguous kind of sexuality, as well as exploring the inherent failure of language, felt, in a way, simple and straightforward, because it felt so real and connected to who I was as a person, and still am. What I mean is that I never actually set out to make work about those things, but rather they just come up as a consistent theme and aesthetic in the work because it is a very natural iteration of who I am.
You don’t shy away from using nudity and erotic imagery. Where do you draw the line between too explicit and challenging conventional norms?
Again, since that particular artistic impulse of mine feels like a natural continuation of who I am as a person, it doesn’t really occur to me that it might be too explicit or challenging conventional norms. The response to my work, however, makes it clear that sometimes, amongst certain people, it is both of those things, which yields interesting and complicated questions, like what is or isn’t ok? Who has the right to depict certain kinds of imagery? Who owns it? Is it even possible to own an aesthetic? Who is it for? Why are we so uncomfortable with aesthetics that relate to an impulse in all of us that is patently natural? And so on…
Talk us through your first exhibition in Hong Kong. What do you hope to convey to audiences, especially those unfamiliar with your previous work?
I want the viewer to be physically immersed in the work, and for the experience to be a notably weird one, not immediately place-able within a recognisable tradition or convention, but rather an experience that is totally its own new language. I want that language to relate to two main phenomena, both of which will be highly personal. On the one hand, I am thinking a lot at the moment about the quest for a sense of one’s own personal identity in the world, and particularly how that relates to sex, sexuality and desire. On the other, I am thinking a lot about depression, insanity and suicidal thought patterns, because as mentioned already, this has been an ongoing challenge for most of my teenage and adult life. Having said all of that, I want the experience of seeing the show to be a joyous and fun one!!!
You’re showcasing abstract paintings in your signature style of spraypainting - what first inspired you towards spraypainting?
I use a broad array of painterly languages and painting media (oils, acrylics, lacquers, airbrush, and indeed spraypaint) but it is true that one body of works in the show will be entirely spraypainted, and that some of my very recognisable works have been spraypainted. I have always loved the immediacy of spraypaint, that it is so quick, and the marks can be very thick if you want them to be, or very thin, and that the medium lends naturally itself to making loud and aggressive imagery. When I was a teenager I was part of a tagging crew too, and so some of that graffiti-ish approach has contributed to the way that I tend to use spray paint.
You’re also presenting several installations, including one that invites viewers to peek through. Would you say it’s a commentary on the current voyeuristic culture?
I wouldn’t say that it’s a commentary on that aspect of our contemporary culture. Maybe it is simply a continuation of it. I am a pervert, and I want the viewer to be implicated as a pervert as well. But in my mind these works are not simply bawdy allusions to clandestinely looking at sex. They are also violent objects. Or the result of a violent occurrence. In my mind, this relates to self-harm and a personal kind of emotional and psychological turmoil. They are also a way of disrupting the flow of the exhibition, in a quietly anarchic kind of way, and dictating a way of viewing it.
To some extent, Hong Kong audiences are still rather conservative, particularly with issues like sexuality. Do you adjust and present pieces in accordance of the viewers, and contemplated in toning things down?
Yes, I do adjust things, since my intention has never been merely to shock or upset, and certainly not for the sake of it. Indeed, it always comes as something of a surprise to me when someone does claim to be shocked or upset by my work, when in fact I want the work to be uplifting, invigorating and joyous, even though at times it is dealing with subject matter and imagery that might be difficult or dark.