Manc of the Month: Peter Davis

It’s crazy now how obsessed we are with our mobile phones. At any given moment we are on our them, flicking through social media and the like, just to see what’s happening, and the answer is probably nothing. Even when we are with people in real life, we still have our phones in our hand, by our side, or on the table at the restaurant – that’s a pet hate of mine! It’s this obsession with our devices that artist Peter Davis has explored in his new series of work. These amazing, photo-realistic paintings caught our eye for their detail and emotion, and that is why Peter is our April ‘Manc of the Month’.

Peter Davis: ‘My inspiration for this work came from our ever-more consuming attachment to personal technology. We are all obsessed with it, and it’s quickly becoming a force that governs modern life. Seeing people glued to their devices is so commonplace now that we don’t give it a second glance. I started this body of work in 2015 to reflect our increasingly addictive relationship with the technology that now dominates our lives.’

‘I have an ongoing series of paintings called “Zeitgeist” that are a social documentary about life in our digital age. They explore the subject of humanity and our relationship with personal technology. My aim, as a social realist painter, is to capture the spirit of the age.’

‘Being able to transform the often-overlooked elements of contemporary society is something I really enjoy about my work – whether that’s capturing the solitary absorption of a technology addict in an isolated situation, or highlighting the paradox of the anti-social nature of social media.’

This paradox is easily seen in the ‘Zeitgeist’ series as none of the images are looking forward, no-one is looking out to the viewer which you’d commonly expect from a portrait painting. Instead they are all focused on their devices. Yet their facial expressions give you an idea of what they are seeing on their phones. The above for example, to me, she has clearly just received a message from the cute boy at school.

CO: How do you think technology changes us?

PD: ‘I am particularly fascinated by how the physical and digital versions of ourselves are constantly changing. I read an interesting statistic recently (from Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer 2016) that 80% of us admit to being active on our smartphones while in mid-conversation with friends. It is clear to see that personal devices are fundamentally altering the way we interact with each other, and this change is what I wanted to document through my work.’

CO: Do you use technology when creating your art? 

PD: ‘At a portrait sitting I like to observe my subjects and not pose them. Everyone has a subconscious facial expression when they’re in their own world. It’s very different to a posed expression that you’d get in a formal sitting – it’s very revealing and that’s when their idiosyncrasies come out. For that reason I always take lots and lots of photographs during a sitting and use several of them as a reference for me to circumnavigate around their features during the painting process.’

‘When it comes to my Zeitgeist series, I like to deconstruct and reconstruct the people and compositions that I see around me, transforming them from their original context. I believe that this forces the viewer to focus on what that person is doing – and in doing so, it creates a psychological conflict in the painting’s composition between humanity and technology.’

Peter’s work tends to be on a single colour background. This, as he says, forces us to review the person. I also think it is a tool to isolate them, they can be anywhere, looking at anything on that device, and I think this also helps us relate more to the subject. We can place ourselves in that same situation.

CO: How long does it take to complete a painting?

PD: ‘Most of my portraits take at least 40-50 hours to complete. I can get 80% of a painting done in 20% of the time, and then it’ll take the remaining 80% for me to work on the details until I’m happy with it.’

CO: How is the exhibition going at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery?

PD: ‘I’m really happy that Warrington Museum & Art Gallery has been able to display all the paintings that I’ve done in my Zeitgeist series so far. They take on a completely different meaning when they’re shown together; it really is a case of the power of the collective. I have had some great feedback that the exhibition is having a big impact and resonating with people.’

CO: Who are your favourite artists?

PD: ‘I discovered the work of Berkley L Hendricks just before he passed away last year. I absolutely love his figurative portraits – the subject matter and graphic compositions in his limited palette series are right up my street. Amy Sherald is another American artist that I’m a huge fan of (her work has many parallels with Hendricks). Her incredible portrait of Michelle Obama has recently pushed her into the limelight.’

CO: What other artists would you recommend we check out?

PD: ‘Liam Fallon produces some incredible contemporary sculptural work and is definitely an artist to watch. He graduated from Manchester Met last summer (MAFA awarded him the Fine Art Prize for his graduate show) and his first solo exhibition is going to be at the Turnpike Gallery sometime in 2019.’

CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene as a whole?

PD: ‘Alistair Hudson has just been appointed as the new Director of Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth. He’s a big believer in art being a tool for social change and likes engaging local communities and so I’m interested to see what he is going to do for art in the city.’

‘I was hugely honoured to be elected into the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts (MAFA) last year, a group founded in 1859 and whose members have included artists LS Lowry and Ford Madox Brown. I would love to see MAFA regain its prominence in the city’s art scene.’

CO: Do you have any future exhibitions/projects coming up?

PD: ‘I am a finalist in this year’s Aesthetica Art Prize, which is hugely exciting, and I have two paintings from my Zeitgeist series in their prize exhibition at the York Art Gallery from 18th May to 30th September 2018.’

‘I am also taking part in “Bee In The City”, Manchester’s biggest ever public art trail that’s happening this summer. The Manchester & District Beekeepers Association have kindly asked me to paint their bee sculpture for this event. My involvement has come about following a recent collaboration with the Manchester Beekeepers on a portrait that I’ve painted of Andy Burnham called “The B’s of Manchester”.’

Keep an eye on our blog for more about Bee in the City coming this summer.

CO: If you could live in any painting/artwork, which would it be and why?

PD: ‘I think I’d choose Lucian Freud’s painting of the Queen (I’d be the one sitting slightly off canvas). Freud was known to be extremely demanding and draconian with all his sitters – the painting took 19 months to complete and I can only begin to imagine the tension in the room between two such uncompromising people.’

Find out more about Peter on his website:

And if you would like to feature as our ‘Manc of the Month’, then get in touch on our Contact page.

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