Peter HarrisART . October 12th, 2016
Interview with the Canadian painter, Peter Harris – at the occasion of the release of his last series ‘Hopper’s Shadow‘.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.