Michelle Collier speaks to Manchester based and Perthshire raised artist, Peter Seal, about his current solo exhibition of paintings and collages at Bankley Studios and Gallery. The exhibition is accompanied by a text on the artist by curator Ian Massey that is available to read here.
Michelle Collier: Your solo show at Bankley Studios & Gallery follows your award of first prize in the inaugural Bankley Open Call exhibition in 2013. Can you tell us a little more about your winning entry?
Peter Seal: I had two paintings in the show but the one that won was ‘Time is on my side’. It has three areas in it, the largest being a green that has been dragged over an orange / vermillion ground. I’ve often seen that with young crops in fields and I was very pleased with how it felt. The title was partly because I think that sometimes my work requires a bit of time to be enjoyed, so apart from being a great song it was a bit of a plea to the judges!
MC: What can you tell us about your working methods, and how your oil paintings take shape?
PS: The paintings tend to arrive quite slowly. Often a particular colour will occur to me and I’ll paint that as a ground. If that works well I’ll watch it for a while to see if the next move comes to mind. If I don’t like the initial ground then I’ll glaze or scumble another colour over it to see what happens. Usually I feel like they can be developed, and off I go. The paintings are made slowly, but they do need to have momentum. I do abandon some altogether if they refuse to offer me any encouragement.
MC: Much of your work seems to hinge on the interplay of colour, and the wide subtleties of range made possible by your palette. What role does colour have for you? Do particular colours hold certain meanings, or is each piece a unique expression?
PS: ‘Palette’ is the key word here; not a colour-card of translatable meanings, but an interaction that, if you want to use the word ‘meaning’, generates meaning in each work. The interplay of colours between layers of paint and in the juxtaposition of fields of colour generates specific resonances, which could be described as the meaning of the paintings. As a very simple example, some of the pieces in my show consist of two or three small coloured panels. Each panel would evoke quite a different meaning if it were shown on its own. It’s the same with the layers of colour within fields, and the organisation of them within each canvas.
MC: What, for you, is the draw of simplicity of form and expression?
PS: The draw of simplicity of form and expression is, paradoxically, its endless complexity and limitless possibilities.
MC: Though abstract and geometric in form, your work has an organic quality. What role does nature play in your creative process?
PS: For me, painting is a natural activity. I’m working with hand and eye using traditional media to create surfaces that are, like most natural things, nuanced and responsive to their environment; the space in which they are shown, the light and time of day. Although the work can accurately be described as ‘abstract’ and ‘geometric’ it is my intention that it should breathe and sing.
MC: Would it be fair to say that narrative influences your process, from your personal stories of the Scottish Highlands, to the song and poetry led titles of your work?
PS: The collages on show in the gallery have a narrative quality, I think, though I’m not setting out with a ‘story’ and attempting to illustrate it. Making this work is like discovering the logic of a story in the process of making it up; shifting shapes until they feel right, and in some way eloquent. In looking at the completed collages people have often commented on a sense of narrative generated by the interplay of light and dark. Viewers are bringing their own experience to bear and it may or may not be the same as my own; though I imagine there are basic similarities in the way many people ‘read’ relationships within and between abstract images.
The paintings are named because the process of making them and the finished canvases evoke in me something of the feeling of particular songs, poems, times, places, or people. The names are allusions to some perceived common ground between the paintings and other experiences, but the paintings themselves in no way set out to be illustrations of those things.
MC: As you mention above, in addition to oil painting you also work in collage. How do other mediums and methods add a new perspective to your work?
PS: I love making the collages. Each involves a flurry of concentrated activity. The paintings are usually made slowly and resolved over a few weeks. So the collages have definitely livened things up a bit and provided another way of working which contrasts with the paintings.
MC: What’s next?
PS: I’m not sure what will happen next, but recently that very stable grid structure in the paintings has become less rigid and odder shapes are finding their way in.
Image: Peter Seal: Slide; Stern – both oil on canvas