"There's always a visual gag" - artist Mick Peter on his new work for Hospitalfield

​The grounds of Hospitalfield House in Arbroath have just re-opened to the public following completion of the first phase of an £11 million revamp, with an exhibition of work by Mick Peter entitled Gerroff!! (or User Feedback). A series of three sculpture groupings, these are his first drawn works created specifically to be shown outside, and they are the first in a new annual sculpture series at Hospitalfield. Peter as also covered 20 tables in the newly refurbished cafe with visual references to the Hospitalfield collection, the gardens and his own materials. Here, the artist shares his thoughts on these new works with the curator Helen Nisbet

Mick Peter with some of his newly-installed work at Hospitalfield

HN: How did the Hospitalfield commission materialise?

MP: It’s been slowly evolving from the original pre-Covid date. We postponed for a year, and now here we are already! In a way this has allowed for a bit of control freak’s cosmic realignment – I’ve ended up making a commission for the café as well as the original sculpture commission. I’ve also been able to let the technique for the sculptures gain a little refinement and the drawings for these groupings have evolved a bit over the past year also. It seems appropriate as these sculptures are more "luxuriously" made than any before and will be the first "drawn" sculptures I’ve made that can go outside. It seems a big thing to me, but maybe it’ll seem to have more continuity with previous works for other people.

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And how have the Hospitalfield building and gardens informed the work?

Installation view of Gerroff!! (or User Feedback), by Mick Peter at Hospitalfield House, Arbroath

The new formal garden I love… one of the groups of sculptures is sited in there, a kind of traffic island in the middle of the spokes of all the little paths that radiate from it. There’s also the way the rest of the grounds are used freely by locals and dog walkers etc (though you could be a local dog walker of course). It seems pretty democratic and has a lot to do with the Hospitalfield ethos both now and historically. That came into my thinking, people are going to have private moments with these objects which is lovely to imagine. The sculptures are about people and "types" as much as they are a gag about how public art is viewed.

This sense of giving space to private moments is within the whole commission. The tables in the cafe are adorned with delicate illustrations inspired by the collection and items that could be found in the gardens. There are fir cones, flowers, half-played games and feathers alongside keys, industrial paint and trinkets. They link to the history and structure of the place whilst also giving permanence to the evanescent – the things that last, the things that don’t.

A bit like a fly in amber, the material I’ve used has this quality to it, the permanence of inlaid objects and delicate things that are embedded in a solid surface. It’s also my favourite game of flatness again, things viewed from above that I’ve drawn that have been engraved on the table surfaces. This point of view should be fun, everything is to scale, it will feel strange and fun to put your arms, phone, a plate etc on it and disrupt/add to this surface image. All the drawn objects are casually arranged to suggest that they’re a moment in time rather than an orderly presentation of artefacts.

Tell me about your work process, your time in the studio, how ideas develop…

Installation view of Gerroff!! (or User Feedback), by Mick Peter at Hospitalfield House, Arbroath

So much drawing….multiple sketchbooks, lots of looking. I guess that’s normal really isn’t it? I tend to have a few strands going on, really incredibly slow drawings, quick drawings, sculptures about sculptures, sculptures about drawings. I make works in groups or series normally (an attempt to remove that authority or importance of the singular). There’s a narrative or a unifying plot or visual gag always. For me the fabrication is another chance to slow down to look at what has come from a drawing. With the sculptures and tables you are filling the incised line work with black acrylic composite. It’s a slow process but a chance to spend time with your image. When you polish it back (again a pretty slow tortuous process) the precision of the lines is revealed, it’s as exciting as developing a photograph and seeing the image appear. The only downside of all the power tools is that you can’t work through your playlists…

People are often carrying things in your work. In your 2019 solo exhibition To Me, To You at Baltic, Gateshead, a sculpture was assessed, lugged and shifted before it’s final display in the gallery. In Pyramid Selling at Tramway in 2015, a tremendous zip was dragged along by a labourer and a giant cement block negotiated by two tired technicians. Playfulness around scale, and an ability to demonstrate the weight or physicality of a thing is something I’ve seen in your practice from the beginning.

I think this is motivated by a demented desire to transform the whole environment of a show, really break the clean order of a space. I like making sculptures about recognisable stuff and playing with their scale… it means you sense the "wrongness" and feel the scale and weight of objects. Also you’ve got that weird thing where you’re navigating the objects in a way that is on your terms, your line of sight so when a character can’t quite pick something up it’s funnier. In the Baltic show that was the whole extended joke, a sculpture with physical weight but no intellectual weight, no authority as it had been modified to make it easier to carry. I hate to say I’m "interested in" things as it sounds a bit vague… but I am interested in the way sculptures in cartoons can be such an effective cipher for a whole movement or type of art encounter. It’s that affectionate pastiche thing… a piss-take with real love for the butt of the joke.

I’m interested in the materials you use; they tend to be quite lumpy and industrial – jesmonite, latex, resin, cement... for this show you’re working with HI-MACS which is more often used to create worktops in kitchens or bathrooms.

Taking materials and then using them in a slightly wrong way is very appealing. The HI-MACS I wanted to use because of the density of the colour, it really is strange as there is no grain or texture it’s hard to process what you’re looking at. With earlier work in Jesmonite it was more about obscuring what the cheap materials were by using it as a coating. This material gives you the sense that there is no armature, no interior. The best way of describing it is that it’s like a stick of rock, wherever you slice it or snap it the picture is still very much in it and of it.

Gerroff!! (or User Feedback) is at Hospitalfield House, Arbroath, until 31 October, https://hospitalfield.org.uk/. Helen Nisbet is a curator and writer who runs Art Night, https://artnight.london/

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