When I watched the sculptor/ceramicist Peter Shire at work in his vast studio, I saw an artist completely at home in and with his art. Like George Mallory climbing a mountain “…because it’s there…,” Shire creates his art because he can, originating a very personal playground for himself; the entire studio reflects a life’s passion, a raison d’etre.
Such commitment predictably results in a prodigious outpouring of art. There’s a room filled with large flat files, every drawer choked full of sketchpads. A huge attic contains line after line of his metal sculptures, as carefully covered as mothballed aircrafts in a Nevada desert.
There is so much sculpture and pottery in the studio that it takes some time to realize that the studio is completely organized into functional areas. Half is dedicated to metalwork: welding, bending, drilling, smoothing, etc. The remaining half is for clay (often earthenware): rolling, assembling, firing, glazing, etc. It’s all quite an operation.
At the studio entrance is Shire’s kitchen, a de facto espresso café. It’s a perfect example of his combining function with fun, as he joyfully offers coffee in one of his homemade cups, poured from his huge espresso maker.
At the time of my visit, Shire was preparing for his upcoming exhibit at the Lora Schlesinger Gallery in Bergamot Station, busily constructing last-minute metal stands for his showpieces. That preview could not prepare one for the actual exhibition. Walking into the gallery was like entering a room filled with Puabi Crowns from Ur placed on top of tall Giacometti-like tables. The entire space sparkled with an airy, dynamic delicacy without losing any of its structural strength.
This characteristic of Shire’s sculpture resonates throughout his works, even extending to his many large public space pieces. Shire is a master at turning metal or ceramic into the monolithic and ethereal in a single sculpture, and in like fashion, imbuing it with both gravitas and whimsy. He is also quite famous for injecting unexpected, often incongruous, shapes into his works.
The mélange of hues Shire paints on his metal and ceramic surfaces are often bright, opaque primary and secondary ones, reminiscent of a Miro or a Calder. Taking art to the ultimate level, the artist injects it into his own attire; one can always trust an artist who wears one red sock with one green sock.
Shire limited his exhibit to three categories: cups, small metal sculptural constructs, and project sketches. Most of the cups come with their own ceramic saucers plus ceramic accoutrements such as fortune cookies, sushi, fruits, chop sticks, et al. Some cups have ceramic geometric forms that spear through the cup. One of his cups was a stunning exception to all the other cups, one that brings to mind Eva Zeisel’s Bauhaus/art deco works.
Among the cups are small metallic sculptures full of metal leaves, fruit shapes, and an occasional cup made of metal. Metallic rods resembling scrambled branches hold this mixture of organic and inorganic shapes together.
Shire’s sketch/painting studies on the gallery walls are fully able to stand alone as works of art, but they are, of course, instructive as to how his sculptures evolve. Harking back to his days of ceramics at Chouinard, Shire mentions Ralph Bacerra telling him that “…if you can draw it…..you can make it.” Shire is never short on either.
The sculptor George Geyer insightfully noted that Shire’s cups begin life as functional vessels but get transformed, some might say transubstantiated, into sculptural wonders of his imagination. There’s no way to walk into a room containing a Peter Shire sculpture and miss it. This very prominent handling of metal and clay comes from a genuine desire to explore forms that move and ultimately define him. Peter Shire is an artist who has found satisfaction, contentment, meaning, and most of all joy in what he does– no small achievement for any artist.