One block of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood has a lively new median strip. Towering, colorful steel sculptures by Peter Shire are positioned amid the grass and palm trees. One can view them from a car, traveling from either direction, just a block east of Doheny. Or, you can park and walk—along a decomposed granite pathway. It’s exciting to see these crazy constructivist pieces, as they assert their presence on the busiest street in West Hollywood. What’s amazing–in addition to their colorful, playful nature—is the way that Shire’s sculptures can brightly and humorously deal with the street life. I’ve been told that the temporary exhibit will be held over for a couple of months, because the City of West Hollywood has had such a great response.
Driving in Los Angeles from district to district, I can often observe the clash and merger of cultures and colors. In the heart of the area called Echo Park, the Peter Shire studio is easy to find. Green vertical gates of welded and painted steel mark the entrance. The tall metal portals are a vibrant yellow-green, a hue somewhere between lime and chartreuse. It’s a first taste of the distinctive color palette that runs throughout Peter’s work. After driving through the brightly colored gates, I park in an asphalt lot, next to towering painted structures. The bold, graphic sculptures quickly introduce Peter’s playful sensibility. It’s a short walk to the steps. I climb to an interior courtyard, full of potted plants, angled awnings, gurgling fountains–and more sculpture. Through a huge industrial roll-up doorway, I can see Peter. He’s on the phone, and at the same time, making an espresso.
Peter looks accessible, like the sculpture and furniture he makes. He’s dressed just like his work. His bright yellow shirt hangs over baggy black and white checkered shorts. In the years that I have known Peter, I have seen a wide array of shorts and t-shirts, sweaters and mufflers, jackets and sandals. But it’s always a combination of stripes and solids, with high-keyed color next to black and white. Even the socks (sometimes intentionally mis-matched) are bright stripes.
Over three decades ago, Peter Shire turned his attention to the form of the teapot. He tinkered and played with planes of color, blocks of form, improbable angles and pieces of fruit. He made reference to a multitude of things that he loved and kept a delightful, daring sense of humor–along with an intuitive yet thoroughly informed sense of design.
For the past two years, he’s been toying with another common part of our everyday domestic life: the chair. Once again, he addresses something totally human: a chair, seated posture, and a place of rest. But Peter injects his love of motion, a sense of humor and a dose of street culture. His world is a global mixture of post-modern design and Los Angeles popular culture; he mixes and samples from Italy to Echo Park. The new chairs are a blend of architecture, color and wry, irreverent humor. Drawing also on his experiences as part of the international Memphis group during the 1980s, Shire challenges good taste and the dominance of modernism in design.
Peter Shire has been described as a Renaissance man, a potter, a storyteller, an architect, and even a toy designer. Peter has also been characterized as a quintessential Los Angeles artist, woven into the fabric of the Echo Park neighborhood where he was born in 1947 and still lives.