RA Schools students tend to see their three years of postgraduate study as a period to develop their work away from the glare of galleries and critics. But London-born artist Eddie Peake (b. 1981) has combined his time so far on the course with high-profile forays into the hyped-up wider art world.
His often performance-orientated art examines perceptions of male sexuality and identity, as well as voyeurism: for ‘Premiums 2012’, the exhibition in March of second-year students work in the Academy’s Burlington Gardens, Peak choreographed Touch (2012), a naked five-a-side football match, the teams differentiated only by the socks and trainers the men wore.
In the last month he presented a performance-based project at Hackney’s Cell Project Space and participated in two group shows at West End commercial galleries Jonathan Viner and Sadie Coles. Blue-chip Roman gallery Lorcan O’Neill has started to represent him (their artist roster includes established British artists such as Rachel Whiteread and Richard Long RA, as well European Neo-Expressionists Anselm Kiefer and Francesco Clemente) and he has been commissioned by Tate Modern to create a project for its Oil Tanks extension, set to open to fanfare in July. It is a measure of his current status that Peake’s name was one of the few released to the press at the pre-launch event last week.
Last week saw the hipster-packed opening of his curatorial project ‘Ruby’ at Gallery Vela, a small two-roomed space a short walk from Oxford Circus. The artist explained in an interview that he wanted to curate the show of 13 artists as if it was an extension to his work, ‘using ambiguity of sexuality and gender as a point of departure’.
This ambiguity is seen both in Christina Mackie’s Shadow (2008), a human-shaped silhouette form whose characteristics could be considered those of either a man or woman. But there is nothing subtle or indeterminate about Adham Faramawy’s psychedelic video Total Flex (2012), which features a naked man trying out various exercise machines, or Celia Hampton’s paintings of penises (I counted three flaccid, one erect) created in high-keyed colour, or the large woollen phallus BUST (2008) by Alexandre da Cunha.
What is most interesting about the exhibition is how the presence of these fiercely erotic pieces quickly colours perceptions of other works in the show. Tamar Harpaz’s photographic diptych featuring two clocks hangs opposite Total Flex; after seeing the video, those clock hands start to look like naked legs kicking in the air. The pillows in George Henry Longly’s nearby assemblage seem less to do with sleep than other nocturnal activities. Sexuality starts to spread from work to work: the subject of the show is not sex as an act, but as an idea in our minds, projected with ease on the objects around us.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine