A Conversation with Peter Shear
Bloomington, Indiana based painter Peter Shear’s modest work defies labeling; keeping to reasonable sizes and easily accessible materials. It engenders a sense of play and discovery. Shear and MFA candidate at UC, Arvind Sundararajan’s paintings were featured in the show Locus Pocus, curated by Emil Robinson at the University of Cincinnati’s 840 Gallery this past month and Field Trip writer Ryan Kerr spoke with the artist about his recent work and studio practice.
Kerr: What actions and thought processes go into painting? Is there a consideration for your body of work with each start?
Shear: The work is generated out of the work at this point. The canvas is like a surface I’m sketching on. It’s the accretion of the sketching and mark-making where things happen on top of each other and through this matrix the final work is suggested. I turn the things around when I’m working. I’m always looking for ways to surprise or trick myself into something because I kind of know what my paintings look like. I’m always working away from that. Often, it’s when the work is falling apart or I’m stripping it down that things start to happen. It’s almost like I have to do like this rain-dance to get to that moment where there’s a lack of self-consciousness and understanding about what I’m doing. It’s about finding the right 10 minutes to string together and sometimes that happens over the course of 6 months and sometimes it takes 10 minutes and I can’t really anticipate that. That’s also like life, things happen like that all the time outside of painting. In that way, I see painting as a metaphor for how I move through the world.
K: So far, all your work is on cheap, store-bought 8x10 canvases. Do you have plans to deviate from these in the future?
S: Yeah, I do. I don’t want to be the small painting painter just as a rule. It’s also a way to kick at the work and give myself a new set of problems. And there’s commercial incentive that wasn’t there when no one gave a shit. So, there’s no real purity sadly. I started making paintings that were 19” x 24” and they looked okay. I’ve also been clinging to this one size so long it was starting to annoy me. But that’s also me. I want to eat the same things all the time and wear the same clothes, so I can be like that in the studio. In the beginning maybe it was seen as a little transgressive but it wasn’t ideological.
K: Has the show with Arvind shed light on the way you saw that group of paintings?
S: Whenever the work is out in the world it behaves a little differently. Oftentimes, people break off into clumps of their friends and are not really looking at the work. Maybe universities are a great place to show because people want to talk about the work. There’s usually one or two paintings that people are gravitating toward which I wouldn’t have picked out.
Arvind’s work came across me recently, so maybe it would have been different if I had time to anticipate what was going to happen. But, it’s always fun for me to see work in a gallery where its nicely lit and has some room to breathe. I like to think when it leaves the studio it could sort of hang wherever. I was happy that they put up a row of the work. For me, that sequence is the best way to learn about the work because they work individually but they're also sort of eliminated by the company. It's like how people behave or party or something like that.
K: You obviously have a lot of influences judging from your Instagram; and your work can seem very referential to other artists’. Is there ever censorship from parody or figuration?
S: I am sort of conscious about getting too close to another artist’s work. But at this point whatever makes my work look like my work kind of asserts itself. It’s a little bit territorial; like I kind of seized on these little canvases. I feel like I’ve carved out a little sliver of the pie for myself there. It’s not like no one else can do it. It just helps me feel like me. It also gives me freedom to do whatever within that armature because it’s always got a little bit of me on it.
Economy is also important for me. I’m trying for as few moving parts as possible because that’s how you build sturdy tools or something like that. And the really dense poetry is always just a few lines but it’s enough you can chew on. The simpler paintings are, the more complex and the more they draw people near them. I think an important aspect of the work is that its fragmentary.
K: During the Q and A artist talk for Locus Pocus in the 840 Gallery, you described painting specifically as an “activity.” Do you find it important to have your art practice coincide with everyday tasks?
S: Working out of the house has helped me get into a framework where it’s just part of my routine. I’m used to working in a space that’s adjacent to a litterbox which puts me in my place. I like being able to work in the house where my family is around but I can still tuck myself away. It’s like sketching while you’re on the phone almost. When I’m in the studio, I’m doing a couple things at once; I’m not just making the paintings.
K: How has having a family changed your art practice?
S: There’s certainly more pressure to bear in the studio. There’s this velocity when I need to have this moment right now. The emphasis of the activity that typically comes at the beginning and end of working on a painting is just shot through the whole process of making the work. My life is also more intense when I’m not in the studio. I see the work as a recording device so it can’t not have an influence. But It’s still never about expressing anything, it’s more about connecting.
Written by Ryan Kerr