Last month while crossing West Broadway, I came across Peter Smith. Peter’s studio is located on a curb facing the busy and fashionable streets of Soho. He transforms wire mesh from screen doors into wonderful works of art. Watching Peter’s fingers mold and knead the wire into his next creation, I was reminded of the great sax players who use their fingers in a similar way; compressing air to create rich, musical tones.
Where did you get the idea to use wire mesh?
I was an art teacher and we always brought in recycled materials like screens and chicken wire for mask making and sculpting. One thing led to another and I started using it to create forms.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
It’s hard for me to say. I have been doing art for so many years, for most of my life. At different intervals people like Paul Klee, Kandinsky and off course Picasso have influenced me. I also studied human anatomy so I have been very much influenced by Rodin and the other masters. I try to think of them when I am doing my work and like them I make sure that there is nothing anorexic or boring about my human figures.
Kandinsky once said “it is clear that the choice of object must be decided only by a corresponding vibration in the human soul”. This really struck me. For ten years I went from doing landscape water color paintings, and then about 12 years ago I went right back into this. I could reference my university instructor from years before when I was at the Rhode Island School of Design, Brice Hobbs. So when I got back into this it just all flooded right back into me. I think that is the sign of a really great teacher.
What is your process from inspiration to execution?
I have done so much nude study and figure drawing that when I get into this and break it down I can do it from my imagination. I have studied it so extensively. I feel very fortunate that I can travel on the road with my wife. I draw inspiration from her as well, although much if what I do is improvisational. I was a musician for years and to improvise meant a lot to me, it’s the evolution of what I am doing.
What instrument did you play?
I played many instruments throughout the years. Today I can’t work without music. I listen to a lot of West African stuff and jazz. So improvisation is really important.
Do you have a top five play list?
I like Richard Bona and music from the 1970’s and 1980’s; Pink Floyd, Donald Fagan from Steely Dan was one of my favorite songwriters and composers. I enjoy their album, Aja and the song, Deacon Blues. It is great composition. I don’t think there are many people out there today that are doing that sort of stuff. It was a real craft. Fagan is one of my favorites.
Your studio is on the street in Soho. How does being outside on the street influence your work?
It’s a combination of things. I am very prolific and I have to keep busy all the time even when I go to arts festivals in Florida such as Art Deco in North Miami and then work my way to the West Coast. I love the idea of the personal exchange and interaction that I am having with my clients and my fans. I have been visited by collectors from all over the world, some purchasing their second or third piece. People here talk to me and so they understand what I am doing. I show them improvisational demonstrations and that is also part of the process.
In a perfect world what would you want your studio to look like?
If I had the perfect studio, I would still have my studio here on the curb, but I would have my gallery in a storefront like that one (he points to a gallery in front of us). People could walk in and out from the storefront. That would be ideal. People would come from all over the world and see my latest work. But weather permitting I would still work from outside.
If your work had a sound track what would it be?
It is interesting that you asked me that because I have actually done demonstrations that had sound tracks. I listen to a lot of classic jazz. I love Miles Davis. Probably a soundtrack along those lines that speaks to the improvisational quality of what I am doing. Probably like his Kinda Blue sound. There is definitely a rhythm in what I am doing. I have to be in that rhythm and things have to be just right. The weather and elements are also a huge factor.
Do you have a theme in your most recent work?
My most recent work is reclining studies. I actually try every few months to get into something new. I like motifs and movement poses. I will do a drawing and do 10-12 versions of it and no two will be exactly alike. Lately I have been doing a lot of reclining studies and seated studies.
You work from photographs, are these pictures that you find?
I take a lot of photos but this one here is a friend of mine. I forgot about it and then recently I stumbled upon it. I never did it before, but have wanted to do it. I also do a lot of sketches. Not necessarily for my pieces, but because I like to sketch. There will always be one or two of them that I will set aside and say to myself that I have to do this one.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I think of my work in technical terms as assimilated, three dimensional drawings based on grids and cross-hatching. Because I get a wide array of people looking at my work, I try to inform them. I like when people ask me about my works. I tell them its three dimensional drawings that are based on grids and depth of field. That always seems to play an important role in my communication with people. And they will walk away appreciative of the time I took to explain.
Peter Smith on Facebook.