Mick Peter - Why I Draw
This Vitamin D3-featured artist channels mid-century cartoon imagery in his lifesize sketches while listening to 'difficult' music
Mick Peter’s drawings often remain incomplete until they exit the white page. His caricature-like creations on paper are enlarged and remade into flat life-size sculptures in materials such as steel and plywood. The figures in his sketches are in a style gleaned from pre-digital-era graphic design, where little figures and characters were used in branding. The sculptural pieces are exhibited as room-spanning installations that tell witty narratives about the absurdities of everyday life, but also cheekily question symbols of authority and deep-seated conceptions.
The sprawling installation To Me, To You (2019) was presented on an entire floor of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, UK. Viewers were invited to walk through the set-up and around the individual pieces, which had been installed in ways that made playful reference to their two-dimensionality. Possibly one of Peter’s works that functions most like a comic strip, To Me, To You follows the journey of a stone sculpture from production in the artist’s studio to public showing at an art institution. In a sequence of comical scenes, replete with visual idioms and recognizable tropes, Peter shows a slapstick-like decision-making process that ends up affecting the sculpture’s final shape, completely undermining the artwork’s integrity.
The sculpture itself is rendered in a modernist abstract style that is sometimes utilised by the media to illustrate the impenetrability and elitism of modern art. Viewers encountered multiple nearly-identical rooms, each indicating a single scene, where small changes in details set forward the narrative.
The unglamorous inner workings of an art institution were not spared from the elaborate gag, either; the visitors had to enter the exhibition through a cartoon set that looked like a drab office, cat posters and all. ‘It’s quite legible, but then you find the subtext in the details,’ Peter explains. ‘For me it’s all those things, showing what it actually feels like to try and make a show.’
Mick Peter is one of over a hundred contemporary artists featured in Vitamin D3: Today's Best in Contemporary Drawing, our new, indispensable survey of contemporary drawing. We sat him down and asked him a few questions about how, why and when he draws.
Who are you and what’s on your mind right now? Mick Peter (I hope). Apart from googling ‘when do you take your Christmas Tree down?’ I’m thinking about the projects I’m working on for Spring. See, I didn’t mention Covid!
What’s your special relationship with drawing and how would you describe what you do? I’m not sure it’s special or I’m special but I really enjoy doing it. I make drawings about sculptures and sculptures about drawing mostly. I draw lots of people too.
Why is there an increased interest in drawing right now? That would be nice……
What are the hardest things for you to get ‘right’? Hands and feet. But, seriously, it’s hard to explain, when something’s finished or ‘right’ you just know. Either that or you’ve run out of time.
Is the immediacy of drawing part of its appeal for you? As a problem-solving tool it’s very direct. It’s also a brilliant tool for communication. In terms of immediacy, I suppose it depends on how clever you’re trying to be….
Can you explain the difference between drawing as a child, something we can all relate to, and drawing as an artist - something most of us cannot? For me it’s about the same, except when you’re an adult you’ve got a more acutely developed sense of how to feel insecure about what you do or find reasons to not do it.
What do most people overlook when they attempt to ‘assess’ drawing? I’m not sure who ‘they’ are? If ‘they’ means people who aren’t artists (sorry Beuys!), then perhaps not to worry too much about why you like or dislike something. You’ll find out more about it eventually and you might change your mind.
When do you draw and what sort of physical, spiritual, mental or geographical place do you have to be in generally for it to work? I need to be about five pages of crap drawings into a sketchbook before it starts to work, I think that’s probably mental and geographical isn’t it? A bit of ‘difficult’ music is good. I make quick drawings and really slow trompe-l'œil drawings and drawings made into sculptures. So it’s about spending time with a thought or an image, often a really long time. I do also draw in front of the TV though, so that probably reflects badly on me.
You can see more of Peter’s work via his website, his Instagram @m_i_c_k_p_e_t_e_r, and his gallery Galerie Crevecoeur. Meanwhile, Vitamin D3: Today's Best in Contemporary Drawing, featuring over 100 artists including: Tania Kovats, Rashid Johnson, Rebecca Salter, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Deanna Petherbridge, Christina Quarles, and Emma Talbot is available now in the store. We'll be running more interviews with artists featured in the book in the coming weeks.