“Pizz-O-Lover (Airplane),” 2007, steel, enamel and wood, 46 3/4″ x 75 1/2″ x 33 1/2″
“A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier,” observes architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It’s a sentiment that noted artist and ceramicist Peter Shire would probably agree with, were he not so busy having fun crafting determinedly eccentric chairs like nobody else has created. Shire follows in a time-honored and rather serious design tradition in which items are created with one eye on function and the other on creativity, except that Shire is so full of joy at mixing the two disciplines that one is likely to go cross-eyed just looking at his creations.
Guy Noir (2007), for example, is a frame-supported tall-backed chair wherein the seat is occupied by two large orange balls-a saucy meditation on masculinity-which makes actually sitting on it exceedingly difficult (“You can maybe sit on it for three minutes,” he observes. “It’s fabulous, isn’t it?”). Pizz-O-Lover (Airplane) (2007) evokes an early Wright Brothers’ biplane; the work derives from a spit-and-sealing-wax aesthetic, updating it with machine-tooled lines in steel, enamel and wood. “It’s a bit of an arcade ride, isn’t it? It works on an emotional level, but it’s really about what happens philosophically. When I’m asked how I ‘approach’ my works, I tend to think first of the actual physical approach. How do I walk up to it…sit in it?”
Shire’s work has long involved playful and incisive redrawing of design maps. He was first catapulted to international renown when Ettore Sottsass of the Memphis design movement acknowledged Shire’s reinvented teapot in the ’80s. Bold, colorful and inventive, his teapots-like his chairs-are just one facet of his examination of degrees of functionality, of how objects exist within a domestic situation or, as he puts it “how they vignette within a room.” “Some of the chairs are a spoof. Some are a canvas. But furniture is the stuff that we use, our building blocks. When print was done in blocks, with movable type, it was physically locked into the press with ‘furniture.’ It gets you from A to B. Furniture is the way we make a room come alive.”
If Finding Your Inner Chair (Skateboard) (2007) evokes a gymnasium workout bench on wheels, ready to judder down an incline like a hyper-clean boxcar derby construction, that in part mirrors Shire’s own personal history with the Californian custom aesthetic. “Back when I started out I used to go to Burbank, where Lockheed was based. It was all there. I used that aircraft technology, working with aviation fabricators to anodize metals and more. I also remember growing up in Echo Park, hanging with my daddy and our neighbor who had four or five hot rods. This was back before most people had cars, after the war. Nowadays you have to be a middle-aged guy with a hundred thousand dollars to have that hobby.”
As befits a polymath mind, Shire’s voracious desire for continual reinvention has seen him negotiate and implement a number of public projects, outside the context of home or gallery. Eighty percent of his public artworks-both public and private commissions -are in Los Angeles. He has recently developed projects for both the LAPD and the California Highway Patrol, and created two lobby sculptures for the L.A. Regional Traffic Management Center. It’s a strange arc for an old hot-rod aficionado-all those screens showing traffic being controlled, funneled into coolly functional grids and frames. But it’s an irony that Shire, never far from sticking his tongue in cheek, is quick to embrace. “I’m in big with ‘the man.’ In with the police. I can’t believe it. I hope if I ever need it, it comes in useful.”
“Peter Shire: Chairs” could be seen this fall at Frank Lloyd Gallery, in Bergamot Station, in Santa Monica, CA, from October 20-November 24, 2007. (310) 264-3866