A CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST PETER CHAN
M: Hi Peter, jumping right in- do you remember your first piece that you made that was significant to your overall body of work?
P: I definitely remember, as those are usually the 'spark' that ignites a body of work. I remember with the 'Ecstasy' series, the first piece was 'Green Ecstasy' simply because I really connected with the classical sculptor Bernini during that time. I learned about Bernini's story about his intense love for Cassandra, which touched me immensely to say the least. That story allowed me to feel that emotional intensity even now. With my painting 'Timeline', it began my body of work titled 'Fata Morgana'. In 'Timeline', there are a series of illusions which inspired a mirage-like theme in the rest of the works.
M: Are there any specific artists or artists work that’s inspired your creativity?
P: Absolutely, some visual artists that have inspired my work are Vermeer, Velasquez, Bernini, and Rodin. I'm also sensitive to music which inspires me just as much as visual artists.
M: I had a feeling you were deeply inspired by Bernini before I even asked. You capture that same essence of an emotion, or a moment frozen in time, in your pieces. I love how your pieces brought color to that world of emotion, and naturally in a new and different way. The transition from your “Ecstasy” series, to your “Fata Morgana” series is really striking. Of course your unique stye is still entirely present, but what sparked the transition into that new series and the variation in your painting style?
P: Thank you, Madison.
With 'Ecstasy', I was interested in exploring the internal emotions within each figure. I wanted to capture their inner worlds on the canvas, and allow the viewers to explore and connect with these paintings in their personal ways. While creating this body of work, I looked into and explored painters and sculptors who created work related to the themes of love, lust, and romance (main topics of interest for me at the time). Later, I wanted to explore some thoughts that lurked my mind which sparked the next series 'Fata Morgana'.
During my explorations, I have always been constantly interested in psychology and the potential of internal growth through experiences in our daily lives. These are topics I would constantly discuss with close friends such as ideas of meditation and catharsis within our quiet solitary moments. In terms of the images, there are generally 'space' around the figures or portraits I worked with. While figures in 'Ecstasy' are generally close-ups which focuses on the portrait, 'Fata Morgana' generally tell us more about the surrounding narratives of the figures. We are constantly changing, and so is the world around us.
M: Tell me a little bit about you color palate- I notice you have a very specific mood to your pieces and I feel a lot of that is portrayed with the color you work with.
P: Absolutely, color is a powerful thing, they can provoke emotions and set the stage.
I find that I go through different phases. I have worked with very vibrant colors with the 'Ecstasy' series, because I want to show the intensity of romantic love and desire. I have also worked with very subdued hues in some of my work in 'Fata Morgana' when the images are of a quiet memory. Then there are images such as 'Timeline' where there are a mix of intensity and quietness. I have never restricted myself to work a certain way with color, it just depends on what the image needs.
M: What is the inspiration behind the figures you’re painting?
P: Honestly, it depends on the painting. For example, there are times when I paint friends or new people I meet because the image captures a certain type of mood, pose, or aesthetic that I am looking for. Other times, I may paint a lover that moved me deeply. They say 'art imitates life' and vice versa, I find this to be certainly the case for me and have allowed me to work truly free.
M: A theme I noticed in your work is that the figures in your paintings are often looking away, or even more often their faces are cropped so you cannot see their eyes. Strikingly, your piece “Precious” has very direct eye contact. Can you tell us a bit about your decision to sort of “hide” the figures eyes from view often? And maybe why in “Precious”, we are connected with her eyes deeply?
P: Great observation, it is always really amazing when the audience (like you) can catch the smaller details I include in my work. As the classical painter Modigliani said, the eyes are the 'window to the soul', it is no secret we are generally drawn towards the eyes. It was not particularly my intent to purposely crop out faces for a lot of the figures in my work, but it felt right to do it sometimes. I think subconsciously, I wanted the figure's personality in my paintings to be conveyed with gesture as much as possible, which means that the portrait doesn't have to be present. We are generally quite obsessed with the portrait, in history it was the case and obviously it is clearly the case now being bombarded whether by the mass media or social media. If I create an image in which I want the audience to connect with something else in the picture besides the face, I would design it as such.
With "Precious", it is certainly a piece that was very important to me to include the eyes. While working this particular piece, I wanted there to be a very classical gaze for this figure like in the works of Vermeer's portraits - the type of gaze that draws you in. I also wanted there to be a secondary important element in the image, as a subtle imagery in the background is painted behind her. The image of Klimt's 'the kiss' which I thought is a very idealized painting about romantic love.
Peter Chan's series 'Fata Morgana' debuted in 2016 in Galerie Youn of Montreal. A painting by peter titled 'Endure' which will be part of the Montreal Charity Auction event "Artsida 8" which will be auctioned off on March 11th, 2018. He is currently creating a brand new body of work as well, which will likely debut 2019.
See more of Peter Chan here.