Carbonation: An Interview with Peter Lee
Peter Lee, “Ski Masked,” 2016.
Well-known for drawing posters for punk bands and the Houston-centric clothing designs he creates under his Petrine TX brand, Peter Lee is shifting gears with a solo exhibition, Carbonation, composed of new paintings and sculptural work. Prior to the opening of his show at galleryHOMELAND‘s HOMEcore (160 Saint Emanuel) on Saturday, FPH had the chance to catch up with the 26-year-old artist.
FPH: How does your work with punk concert posters and Petrine TX relate to the work you’re currently making?
Peter Lee: I think the reason that the T-shirts and my posters specifically took off so well was because the things I was making were visually interesting because there’s a million people out there doing posters and printing T-shirts, but only a handful of them are recognizable. If there was a bunch of them on a wall, there’s only a few people that you would know made which poster. So with my oil paintings, I’m aiming for that. I want my paintings to be interesting and recognizable. The way I make T-shirts is one style, the way I do posters is one style, and I want the way I paint with oils to be its own style as well.
FPH: What direction do you see yourself taking after this exhibition?
Lee: I just want to get better at painting oils. I want the things I paint to look like the things they’re supposed to look like, but that’s only one part of making paintings for me. I want to put work out into the world and show work is its own world. The first art shows I was going to was when I was probably a teenager and honestly I wasn’t interested in art at all, I just knew there was going to be free booze there and no one would be checking IDs. That’s how I met a lot of the people I know now. When I’m putting together something — not necessarily an event but a vehicle to put my things out into the world — I always try to make it interesting. The thing about the art show is that I wanted to make it its own event. I want to do more interesting things as far as presentation goes in addition to just being better at painting.
Peter Lee, “Everything,” 2016.
FPH: What led you to oil painting?
Lee: I was getting pretty big making posters and T-shirts to the point that more and more people were getting tattoos of my designs and the bigger that got, the more sterile it all felt. Even though I was designing everything, I had very little hands-on involvement with the actual items. I don’t make my own stickers because there’s so many of those, I don’t print my own T-shirts anymore because there’s just too many to do by myself. Basically, I reached this point where I draw them by hand, send them to a computer, re-drawn by hand, fed back into the computer and then sent off to someone else to print it for me. So when I wanted to do something more, I knew it couldn’t be T-shirts or concert posters, so naturally oil painting was the next step.
FPH: Why naturally?
Lee: Everything I learned about art was kind of backwards. Other than doodling on napkins in middle school art class, my first formal art stuff dealt with computers. I learned how to use Photoshop when I was really young. When I went to Lanier [Middle School], my 8th grade year, they instated the ID badge policy, so everyone had to wear an ID badge with their picture around their neck. If you lost it, you’d need to pay a lot of money, so I learned how to make fake ones and I’d just give them away to my friends. After I learned Photoshop, I started doing photography and was getting published by the alternative press. After photography, that’s when I started doing graphic design and hand-drawn posters. After T-shirts, photography, graphic design and hand-drawn posters, I started painting, kind of because that was the one thing I hadn’t done yet, but it was also the natural progression of going backwards because typically computers is the last thing you learn, but for me it was the first.
FPH: How does Houston impact your work?
Lee: Oh man, tons. First, Houston is a city that no one cares about, which I really like because everyone has an opinion about New York, LA, Chicago and Philadelphia even though Houston is in between there [in population]. There’s no stereotypes about Houston, but there’s always stereotypes about Texas. So that’s really great because Houston has really great rap music and a really weird punk history and that’s how I got into art. I was a punk kid. When I was really young, I was playing in shitty punk bands, I was going to show, making posters, doing all that. So that’s how I got into art. I really like how everyone hates the city. A lot of people who live here don’t like living here and a lot of people who have never been here don’t like it and a lot of people who come here to visit don’t like it. I think that’s amazing. It’s an incredibly hated city. There’s not a big “thing” that happens here except for the Livestock Show and Rodeo, which I’ve never been to. I think it’s great that happens to be our biggest thing because there’s tons of people who go to New York or LA for certain things — music festivals and whatnot — and I literally know nobody from out of town who would ever come to town for the Rodeo. When I meet new people, they have absolutely no expectations about what I’m going to say about where I live and what it’s like. It would be completely different if I lived in New York, LA or Chicago.
FPH: What do you think about the Houston art scene?
Lee: I think the Houston art scene is great in the sense that a tight-knit group of people care about it and it’s usually the same people. The fact that CAMH gave Mark Flood his own show is great because Mark Flood hates the CAMH and he’s not even a big fan of retrospectives. The fact that the city’s contemporary art museum knowingly gave a guy that doesn’t like their museum or the world his art has fallen into is pretty amazing. It’s like inviting your enemies to your birthday party.
The opening reception for “Carbonation” takes place on Saturday, May 21 from 6 to 9 pm at HOMEcore (160 Saint Emanuel) and the exhibition is on view through July 9.