Standard Goods Featured Artist: Peter Hopkins

Peter Hopkins is a painter whose work pays particular attention to the affective domain, often as it relates to the animal world. A former woodworker, his paintings tend toward a primitive form based on the intersection between dream life and reality. He prefers to paint in layers over periods of time. 

Why do you do what you do?

I like to paint. I like the act of putting paint on canvas. Then, seeing what happens and responding to that. I think painting provides an ongoing conversation, which is, in some ways, more valuable than the paintings themselves. When the conversation is rich, you experience it in the paintings. I also think, as a discipline, art can be a worthwhile endeavor.

What’s your spirit animal?

If my paintings are any indication, it would be a cross between a cow and a horse. I like them both for different reasons. I’ve always admired cows for being more or less content to wandering the pasture all day. Horses are really such interesting and beautiful creatures.

Where did you grow up? And how did it influence you as an artist?

I grew up in central Illinois. The land is open, and the houses look the same. The actual ground is prominent in the midwest in a way that’s it’s not in Seattle. You see photographs of grids of land and farmhouses from above, or you look out on a horizon, which is mostly flat land and blue sky. There’s an understated, banal element to this that I appreciate. Unlike the northwest, which is dramatic and expressive in it’s scenery, the midwest requires a bit of patience to see it as something interesting and meaningful. I think you can find the influence of all of this in my artwork.

What artist do you most identify with?

Henry Moore. All that carving he must have done. Sometimes I think of paintings as a kind of sculpture, not quite three dimensional but moving in that direction. The labor of painting is significant to me, like hoeing a garden or gathering wheat.

Describe a good or bad situation in your past that inspired you?

Being a parent (which I consider a good situation) has changed me, and I think has inspired, i.e. filled with specified feeling, thought, ect., my painting. Something about parenting strikes you at the core, levels you down a bit, if you let it, and leaves you in a different place. The image of the dry bones in Ezekiel is coming to mind, along with some Anselm Kiefer landscapes. Being in the thick of parenting, it’s nice to know those bones resurrect.

What’s your worst nightmare?

Falling off a ledge, though when I’ve actually followed that dream through I never seem to die at the end, or even be in much pain. I think it has more to do with feeling unhinged, the terror of that. I used to have dreams of falling, or others falling, when I worked at a psychiatric hospital. I think there's an experience, when people are in crisis, of things not holding together, and falling is a way to re-present that. Over time, though, I started dreaming about the actual halls and rooms of the hospital as an environment—things starting to hold together—which was movement in the right direction.

If you could travel in a time machine, where or when would you go?

I keep thinking about this question, and I’m not able to come up with an answer. Too many options, or something about traveling in a time machine seems exhausting to me. Most of my life right now is ordinary: doing the dishes or taking my daughter to school. The exuberance of time travel, I don’t know if I could even lift my foot into the vestibule. But, I would be remiss to pass up the chance, so maybe Venice or Florence in their prime, or on one of the space shuttles to the moon.

How has your style as an artist changed over the years?

I’ve become more reserved, or, if that’s not the right word, I’m much more content with simple images: circles, the outline of an animal, a shade of gray. As an example, almost all of my current paintings are done with black and white paint, which is interesting, because I have always loved color. I tried painting with yellow the other day, and it wasn’t long before I painted the entire canvas black. This is what I like about painting. If you start a process, the process develops a life of it’s own, and it will talk with you, even fight a little bit. I could have bullied that painting into yellow, but that would have been disingenuous, and would have led to poor painting. Who knows, over time that painting might relent. Honestly, it’s much more interesting to see what the painting wants to do.

How is your personality reflected in your work?

I assume it’s there, though I don’t really think about it. I feel invested in my painting, so I’m sure my personality is there too. It’s nice to look back on a painting once it’s finished and see what it might disclose about me, and to see how the images have grown and evolved over time. I had been painting animals for a while, smaller animals taking up a part of the canvas, when one day I painted one that took up the whole canvas. I showed it to a friend of mine, who responded: “Nice to see this fellow assuming his proper heft!” Maybe something in my personality was beginning to assume his proper heft; that would be a psychological reading of what was happening. Ultimately, though, I think paintings should be seen as having a life of their own.

What is your favorite medium to work with?

For a long time I was ashamed that I like to work with acrylic paint. I assumed it was considered a second rate substitute for oil. Then I saw that many of Susan Rothenberg’s horse paintings are acrylics, and I also learned that Cy Twombly often painted with house paint and wax crayons. I think it opened my eyes to my own bias, and how that can get in the way of things. I still appreciate and value materials, but my scope has stretched some as well.

Standard Goods Featured Artist: Peter HopkinsStandard Goods Featured Artist: Peter HopkinsStandard Goods Featured Artist: Peter Hopkins

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