Interview / Peter Harris

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Interview with the Canadian painter, Peter Harris¬†– at the occasion of the release of his last series ‘Hopper’s Shadow‘.

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Who are you Peter?

I’m an artist from Toronto, Canada, obsessed with the urban landscape and a desire to create interesting paintings about it!

Tell us more about your last series, “Hopper’s Shadow”? Is it something you wanted to do since a long time? [4 paintings below]

This series is an evolution of my urban landscape paintings and how I’ve been thinking about some of the icons that came before me like American artist Edward Hopper. I wanted to find a way to acknowledge his genre defining paintings, and so I started to paint miniature replicas of his work as if they were hanging in the interior spaces of the buildings that I had been painting. It’s as is I’m putting a contemporary frame around his historical works, and comparing not just the style of painting, but also how the city has changed over time.

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Where did you find all these intriguing places?

To tell you the truth, I try my best to find ugly, banal, ubiquitous, or overlooked corners of the urban landscape for my paintings. Beauty is never part of what I am searching for. I’m often walking around my hometown of Toronto, looking for interesting buildings or landscapes that I can use to make interesting paintings- if the paintings turn out beautiful, that’s a bonus, but I prefer the challenge of starting from something banal that I can manipulate into what I want to see.

You paint urban landscapes for a decade now, is your style and technique still evolving today?

I’m always evolving and growing-but I work so slowly that it’s only in retrospect when I look at my work from a few years ago that I can see the changes. My work over time has become more realistic, “tighter” and more detailed. As long as I’m still trying new things and learning, then I think I’ll keep evolving as an artist-it’d be boring for me if I was painting the same thing 10 years from now.

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Can you choose 1 book and 1 movie that go along well with your work?

Movie: Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock …..book: Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

All the paintings on your website are night scenes. Why did you choose to focus on dark atmospheres?

I love the transformation of the city from day to night-the stillness, the solitude, and often there is a type of tension that exists at night as the number of people on the streets diminish. I want to capture that mood and atmosphere in my paintings-its my favourite time to walk around the city. Also, from an aesthetic perspective, when I paint night scenes, I can really hide parts of the landscape in darkness, and illuminate other area with lighting-its as if the landscape is on a theatre stage, and I can throw a spotlight on what I want people to see, and the rest can fade to black.

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Can you tell us about your creation process? [see Peter’s studio below]

Whenever I’m out in the city, I’m always taking mental notes of interesting parts of the urban landscape that I want to return to. I come back at night with my camera, and take photos for my source material. Back in the studio, I like to let ideas percolate for a while before I start painting, so I slowly sort through all the photos I have while I’m working on other paintings. I work fairly slow, maybe 2 paintings a month at most, so often by the time I’m ready to start a new painting, I’ve already discarded many possible ideas- I have way more ideas for paintings than time to paint them all. I work in oil on canvas because I love the deep, rich colours I can get, and I build up my work slowly through many layers to achieve a very saturated look.

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Do you change elements from the reality?

I often change things in my paintings- I’m like a human photoshop. I’ll delete details that might distract or I’ll add windows or lights to improve a composition. In the end, the painting needs to work on its own, and its not important to me if it matches reality exactly.

Give us some references you had when you were a child which still influence your work today.

I read a lot of comics when I was kid- Daredevil and Spiderman being my favourites. It’s possible that the city-settings of these comics, plus the dark mood of Daredevil have had an unconscious influence on me.

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Do you live from your art?

Yes, I live full time from my paintings-I consider myself lucky that I get to have this as my “job”!

What are you going to do just after having answered to this final question?

Pour myself another cup of coffee.

Merci beaucoup!

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/ Peter shows his last series ‘Hopper’s Shadow’ in Vancouver this month!

Hopper’s Shadow
solo exhibition of oil on canvas paintings from Peter Harris
October 1 – 29, 2016
Opening reception (artist in attendance) October 8, 2 – 4 pm
Ian Tan Gallery, 2321 Granville Street, Vancouver, Canada http://iantangallery.com

+ peterharris.ca