Michael Peck is an artist living in the edge of the spotlight. His starkly painted monochromatic depictions of youth and landscape seep into your consciousness, leaving you unsure of where you stand in relation to his work. He captures frozen moments that appear like isolated film stills, divorced context or explanation. Peck has steadily defined his artistic identity over the past decade, and interest in his work is piquing both at home and overseas. Having just returned from Sydney where he was commissioned to paint a massive sixteen metre by four metre installation, he took some time out to answer a few questions for us.
Hi Michael, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Michael Peck, I’m 33 years old and I am a painter.
How long have you been doing what you do?
I’ve been making art since I was a kid but I’ve been practicing professionally for about 12 years.
There’s a real sense of stillness in your work, you often paint people and animals frozen in motion, what draws you to this aesthetic?
Often I’m trying to capture a moment just before or after something has happened, as if what happens next will be of great significance. I like that this leaves the narrative open ended, allowing the viewer to fill the gaps, project their own experience and find their own conclusions.
How long have you been working with a sepia colour palette?
About seven years. I keep feeling like its coming to an end and that I will begin to explore super-saturated colour as a direct contrast. But I love my palette and I can’t seem to let it go… maybe I never will. It’s something that has come to distinguish my work, it’s part of my identity.
You’re primarily a painter, but you also work across other mediums including ink drawing and installation, how important is it you to keep experimenting?
I am a sucker for tangents. I am most passionate about drawing and painting as my primary practice but I also get easily sidetracked with sculpture, installation, printmaking and photography projects. These satisfy my need to play, experiment and take risks. Sometimes these are exhibited, other times they just allow me to explore something new.
The figures in your work never seem to look the audience in the eye, what makes you deny them this contact?
Eye contact is an important means of personal connection. I’m trying to create a situation where the viewer attempts to seek out the character in the painting, yet, ultimately, is denied. I want the paintings to convey a sense of alienation, what better way to do this than alienate the viewer?
Where do the landscapes you paint come from?
My landscapes reference a combination of real places and imagined but are always adapted to provide a fitting context for the narrative to be played out. I want the landscape to look like it could suddenly swallow up the figure! Perspective and atmosphere are constantly important in my imagery; I always seek to draw in the audience and blur the boundaries of where the painting starts and ends.
Can you walk us through a typical day for you?
My days are rarely typical anymore! My life is guided by my love for my family and the desire to act on inspiration. As long as I find the right balance, then I am satisfied. The mornings are always dedicated to my wife and kids then I ride my bike to the studio at about 10 o’clock, choose music, drink tea and paint/draw as much as possible. Any day also involves time spent with clients, gallerists, curators, writers and other artists. Coffee always needs to be drunk and new ideas always need to be fully explored.
How do you make sure your work doesn’t become perceived simply as idyllic or nostalgic?
There is something about the aesthetic of my work that often leads it to be interpreted this way, however, it’s not my intention. The work is much more layered than that.
I am forever trying to render a certain tension within my work; suspended just below the surface.
I believe art is a good place to engage with our anxieties. We live in a social, political and environmental climate that is pretty hostile, yet we do our best to mask our fears. I think my paintings seek to illustrate this. On the surface, they may appear idyllic, but really they signify something much more disquieting.
What would you be doing if you weren’t painting?
Playing with my kids!
Any upcoming projects?
I’ve just finished a large mural project at the Oxford Arts Factory in Sydney and now I’m focusing towards my solo exhibition at Metro Gallery in October.
Follow Michael Peck’s work at michaelpeckart.com.