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Eddie Peake: “I wanted to do anything but be an artist”

As I see it

Published 2 December 2016

Marking a solo show at White Cube Hong Kong, RA Schools alumnus Eddie Peake spoke to us about football, finding himself and “ferocious attention seeking.”

  • Eddie Peake graduated from the RA Schools in 2013, having first made headlines during his second year for staging a naked five-a-side football match in Burlington Gardens. He went on to exhibit in Tate Modern’s Tanks, White Cube Bermondsey and last year, the Barbican’s Curve gallery. Where You Belong at White Cube Hong Kong in 2016 was his first show in Asia. A solo show of his work opens at White Cube Bermondsey in February 2018.

    My work is me.

    There’s often a sort of quest for identity in my work – and that, I think, is the staggeringly beautiful thing about being an artist. You are afforded the luxury of creating a space for yourself as an individual in the world. That’s what the title of my new show is about; Where You Belong.

    I envy artists who do one thing

    – and there are lots of artists who do that in a brilliant way. Let’s say there’s a painter and he comes in to the studio every day and makes paintings of cars. So what does he do with any ideas that do not pertain to that? What does he do when he thinks, wouldn’t it be wicked to see a sculpture of a fawn riding a sheep going yeehaw and waving a lasso around his head? I’ve got no choice but to do it.

    I’ve always played football.

    I love it. I play five-a-side near Seven Sisters. Touch, the piece I made in my second year at the RA Schools (below), wasn’t my first to include football – it’s become a kind of motif. I used to treat things I did – extra-curriculars like graffiti and football and dance classes – as not part of my art, then I had a sort of epiphany. I realised I want all of those parts of my life in my art, and vice versa.

    Being in every newspaper does funny things to you.

    That moment in 2012, when the papers picked up the football match, was exciting and nerve-wracking. Suddenly my art was out there in the world, which I loved. But it can do funny things to your head when you see people making commentary and criticism that isn’t really about the work anymore. I know that work is quite tabloid-friendly, but sometimes comments have felt needlessly bitchy, even bigoted. It has made me quite miserable at times.

    • Portrait of Eddie Peake in his studio

      I don’t know what my sexuality is.

      I know it isn’t straight. I know it isn’t gay. I know it isn’t bisexual or queer or trans. Personally, I don’t know why we have this endeavour culturally to give everything a name. My work is my personality and sexuality manifest – when I look at it, it feels like me.

      Depression is one of my themes.

      In the Hong Kong show, there are these big paintings with layers that recede back into what is ultimately a bright white void. It harks back to some sort of inner turmoil. Depression has been a big ongoing thing in my life. My feeling is that if depression is at the core of your existence, your job is to try to get other experiences and feelings to kind of cover it up, and the everyday trials and tribulations of just being a person might embolden those other layers or they might strip them away. I feel self-conscious talking about this. My personal difficulties feel very self-indulgent compared to the plight of the world in 2016.

      The worst case scenario happened twice this year.

      I felt that way about Brexit and now Brexit part two has happened. Very terrible. I don’t know how it’s going to unfold. I’m scared. It makes me question all the things I thought were true.

      While I’ve got a paintbrush in my hand, I’m thinking a thousand things.

      I’ve got to write ten emails to those different dancers. I’ve got to speak to the fabricator that’s making my new sculpture and decide on a colour for the jesmonite that’s going to go in it. I’ve got to write to the people that run that football pitch where I want to do this new performance. And I’ve got to find ten boys who are up for doing the performance naked. It does drive me insane, actually.

  • I wanted to do anything but be an artist.

    I’d been brought up around contemporary art and I found museums and galleries boring, and there was a sense of obligation. And then when I was about 17, I made a still-life painting that I loved, and it was like – ah, so you can do something you enjoy and that can be, you know, what you do in your life. So I did that.

    I’m a ferocious attention seeker

    but absolutely crippled with shyness and insecurity at the same time. I get really, really nervous about performing in my works. I recently did a performance in New York at Jeffrey Deitch’s gallery. I was in it in a really minimal way – sitting on a subwoofer with my face painted like all the other performers. And I was so nervous, I can’t tell you. I felt debilitated with nerves.

    One of my heroes is Bertolt Brecht

    the German playwright. One of his priorities was that the audience should be entertained – but that people go home and talk about the work critically rather than just passively absorbing it. Very often I find that if a work is hyper aware of its own serious criticality, that basically means it’s going to be incredibly boring. For me, it’s really important that the viewer is rewarded for their investment. Criticality and entertainingness do not need necessarily to be mutually exclusive.

  • “Collaboration” is misused.

    I use the analogy of a soup or a sandwich. If you can see all the different layers and you can say, oh the cheese is mine, the lettuce is hers, the tomato is his, that is not a collaboration. But if it’s all messed up together like a soup, and you can’t distinguish between the contributions, that is a collaboration. I do both.

    I’m 100% not a morning person.

    Absolutely hate it. It takes me a few hours to become Eddie… I stole that line from A Single Man. I often work late.

    A collective spirit is an important thing.

    The exhibition is the thing that excites me – it’s the moment that the work really comes alive. So when I left art school, I felt this great yearning to be exhibiting, and so my friends and I clubbed together and exhibited off our own steam in completely improvised venues. We’d get rooms above pubs, do a show there. I did a show in my own bedroom once.