Peter D. Gerakaris | The MiND of a Creative Inspiration
American artist, Peter D. Gerakaris has created a multiplicity of vibrant art pieces from kaleidoscopic paintings, installations, and origami sculptures inspired by his extensive travel list and residencies from across the globe; including China, Central America, the Caribbean, and West Africa.
Peter’s creative flair was strongly rooted from a young age, growing up with artist parents and exploring new environments, allowing him to immerse into color and new traditions. His distinct style of work celebrates the exciting convergence of culture and nature. By presenting botanical visual elements in fluorescent and metallic tones hidden within geometric shapes, the artist offers viewers a unique multi-sensory experience.
To gain a closer look into the artist’s conceptual ways and vibrant outlooks, MiND took part in an interview with Peter D. Gerakaris earning him the position as this week’s Creative Inspiration.
What inspires/influences you in your artwork? How do these inspirations translate into your work? – culture, background, daily life, imagination, people.
PETER D. GERAKARIS: My influences are like an illogical collage – I think the makeup of any person is a bit like a collage. My upbringing with artist-parents was rooted in nature and imbued me with a reverence for the natural world. I now grapple with filtering that through the many experiences I have amassed while travelling, studying the culture of cities, and engaging with art and history. My parents started me off drawing before I could walk. I collect masks wherever I travel, try the local food, exchange ideas with fellow artists (both visual and musical) who speak to me on a visceral and cerebral level; and I also love to read. For instance, I had an amazing experience doing all of the above during a 3-month exhibition, workshop, and residency program in the Cape Verde Islands, West Africa in 2014, which was organized by the former Luxembourg Ambassador to Cape Verde – Marc de Bourcy, in collaboration with the US Embassy Praia. I also completed an exciting project with the US Art in Embassies Program (AIE) in Libreville, Gabon where six circular paintings are included in the AIE Permanent Collection. No matter where I am travelling in the world, I feel most at home when I find a way to connect with nature – and that touchstone remains my biggest inspiration, aside from artistic practice itself.
Being an artist, what is your personal outlook on life?
PETER D. GERAKARIS: I try to be mindful of the “art of living”. This is easier said than done as professional obligations pile up! Focussing on the creative, active role we can play in crafting our own daily experiences is key to helping us avoid the ruts of routine. It also nurtures one’s art. Striving to step outside one’s comfort zone and derive creative pleasure from all activities – whether cooking, skiing, playing music, sketching, or painting – amplifies the present and can enhance our awareness of beauty. Creativity can, of course, be a messy process during which I allow myself to lose control by going overboard with control. However, even amidst these shadows, I strive to see the colors.
What role does art have in society?
PETER D. GERAKARIS: Art has many roles, but perhaps is at its best when it allows us to communicate in a transcendent way – e.g. it has the power to enhance the human condition and our awareness of the world. For instance, public artwork can transform a neglected area by converting it into a desirable place. I am currently beginning a large public artwork through the NYC Percent for Art Program and School Construction Authority for the new lobby of PS101 in Brooklyn. It is a chance to connect with a large, diverse group of people – not to mention becoming a part of the daily lives of elementary school kids. On another level, color itself in the art can impact us emotionally and physically: just look at a Joseph Albers painting that can forever alter how one “sees” the world. And I am partial to artwork and artists who are not afraid to stylize or utilize drama to make a point – look at Caravaggio! As artists, I feel it is through stylization that we have the power to shift perception, if only for a slight moment. Furthermore, I am thinking about James Rosenquist’s “F-111” painting and how his plucking a hair dryer out of its context and enlarging it into a colossal scale (making it look like a warhead) calls into question gratuitous militarism. In short: by questioning our assumptions, art has the power to make us think and feel beyond the quotidian.
Do you believe art can be an inspiration in the retail industry and environments?
PETER D. GERAKARIS: Although I am an artist and not a retail designer, I think art can inspire retail. Narrative and content help inspire any realm of life. We consume culture in many ways and the boundaries between art and retail sometimes blur. Art has the potential to provide a more meaningful narrative layer beneath the surface. Additionally, art can animate retail by making environments experiential. When I was commissioned to create “Rappaccini’s Origami Terrarium” – a window art installation for Bergdorf Goodman – I wanted something to hum behind the kaleidoscopic façade, so this work drew heavily upon Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale of “Rappaccini’s Daughter” an allegory about love in a poisonous garden. And in a very basic sense, any public artwork has some overlap with retail in that both must reach out to the public domain. In 2015, I was commissioned to create “Tropicália”, a 2,000 sq ft site-specific installation commemorating Cornell Tech’s Groundbreaking on Roosevelt Island (NYC). The site was a pop-up gallery located in a former retail space in the heart of the island. I transformed the massive, ground-floor window displays by inserting mural vignettes that were visible from the street, ultimately enticing the public to enter the immersive installation. Once inside, viewers could experience a multi-sensory environment replete with large-scale murals (with the option to view them through ChromaDepth 3D glasses), and an ambient soundscape.
What is the conceptual content of your artwork? What word would you use to describe your work?
PETER D. GERAKARIS: To be succinct, I am intrigued by the convergence of nature and culture. I seek to evoke a sense of place, while also expressing contemporary society’s fractured relationship with the environment. Additionally, I attempt to express global hyper-connectedness – a complex phenomenon. For instance, I recently completed an art commission for the lobby of the new Warwick Hotel Paradise Island (Bahamas) called “Junkanoo Masquerade”, reading as two giant mask heads. Each “Mask” collages traditional Afro-Caribbean symbolism with a contemporary neon palette – all while nodding to the Afro-centric exoticism sought out by the European Modernists. This work celebrates the exciting mixture of global perspectives of today’s world while using the language of painting as its glue. This commission serendipitously fits within my “Mask Series” on which I have been working for several years. I also recently launched “Masquerade”, a solo project derived from this series with Heather James Fine Art (Palm Desert, CA). Essentially, the series hybridizes many cultures into “global masks”, while aiming to reverse a mask’s function by projecting psychic space on an exterior meant to conceal. As for a word which best describes my work: kaleidoscopic.
What piece of your artwork do you most identify with or defines you as an artist?
PETER D. GERAKARIS: I often paint bees and pollinators within larger vignettes and perhaps identify with these creatures myself. I feel I am working to create a sense of place in all my projects. The sense of place is nuanced with each project, whether nostalgic, welcoming or ecstatic. Serendipitously, bees and flora were literally part of “Floating Garden“, a recent art installation I was commissioned to create for The Surrey Hotel’s Rooftop Garden in Manhattan for Frieze Week New York (2016). I integrated a site-specific architectural, wrap-around mural within a sumptuous, Highline-style garden designed by Rebecca Cole. We had fun blurring the boundaries between art and botanicals – and this environment became home to real lavender and many live bees, while patrons of the hotel enjoyed sipping herb-infused cocktails on the rooftop garden as they took in cityscape views. It was perhaps the most enjoyable installation process I have experienced to date, as I was making art outside on a sunny rooftop garden. e.g. making art outside on a sunny rooftop garden.
What would you like achieve/ make people feel when they view your artwork?
PETER D. GERAKARIS: Since I am fascinated by the space where nature and culture converge – which is also an increasingly fractured space – my artistic process attempts to mediate these natural visions through an urban, contemporary lens. I also consider my work to have a dense Neo-Baroque spirit. However, rather than portraying religious iconography that bursts from the framework, I channel a barrage of secular information (such as flora, fauna, geometry, and pattern) which is more relevant to our hyper-graphic, media-saturated age. I am aware how this can result in a sense of visual bombardment for viewers. I would argue that in 2017, no individual can truly apprehend all the information being flung at him/her at any given moment and there is something overwhelming – even disempowering – about this. Yet the info we exchange also tends to be dumbed-down, e.g.: text messages, emojis and tweets. Although my work aims to reflect the gaudiness of our times, it is also a struggle to reconcile some equilibrium (and find moments of beauty) amidst the chaos and complexity.
What do you believe creates a value in art?
PETER D. GERAKARIS: I feel these are two separate matters which are often confused: one is a question of aesthetic value; the other is of commercial value. At the end of the day, we cannot really apply rational economics to art. Art is technically worth what anyone will pay for it at a given time – or what the market will bear – but ultimately, can we really put a price tag on truth and beauty?
How do you see art evolving?
PETER D. GERAKARIS: My optimist-self likes to think art will evolve by leaps and bounds through intellectual and technical advancements – such that our imagination will be the only limit. My sceptic-self just returned from Rome, where I was greatly humbled: I believe cultural evolution is non-linear, and we have much to learn from the great civilizations that inevitably collapsed. I have alluded to this in some of my art projects, where I insert references to collapsed civilizations such as Mayan ruins and classical sculpture. As such, are we truly as “advanced” as we like to think, or do we merely “think” we are advanced? I temper my admiration for tradition by contributing to the artistic continuum – even if only in a modest way – which also means breaking with paradigm(s) along the way. I do believe one must know the rules to break the rules.
Best piece of advice you have ever been given…
PETER D. GERAKARIS: I have been given ton of advice as an artist, and a few pieces have really stayed with me: 1) You must know when to say “no”. 2) Remind yourself, “You can’t do it all”, whether in a painting, in life, or both. 3) “You are only as good as your last artwork.” As a maximalist, I find these are all easier said than done!
I am currently preparing for exhibits at The National Museum of Wildlife Art (Jackson, WY), Wave Hill (NYC), and FX Fowle’s gallery in NYC, so I once again welcome the challenge of putting all this advice to the test. That first leap off terra firma is always exhilarating and addictive when launching into a fresh body of work.