Since the 1970’s, Peter Shire (b. 1947) has been working at an intersection. Where craft, fine art, and industrial design collide, he has built his career, drawing freely from each area taking it seriously with irreverence. He has had forays into architecture, furniture, and fashion, but he keeps returning to ceramics. Like his home and studio in the Los Angeles suburb of Echo Park, clay is one medium he knows he will never leave.
In 1974 Shire made the two pieces he considers to be the first mature work of his career in clay. Auffen Gile and Gile Kilns were Shire’s sculptural, geometric interpretation of the traditional teapot, complete with sun-bleached pastel glazes, uncanny angles, and a jumbled collage of parts. Influenced by Bauhaus and Futurist aesthetics, the revolutionary work of Southern California ceramic artists like Peter Voulkos and Ken Price, and his own upbringing in Los Angeles, Shire sought to make a piece that meshed all this together. In his first teapots, he rolled these elements into one and found a form that he has continued to reinvent throughout his career.
Shire’s early teapots were also significant because they attracted the eye of Ettore Sottsass, one of the founders of Memphis, an international design movement that came out of Italy during the 1980’s. Sottsass found Shire’s teapots “fresh, witty, and full of information for the future”, and the members of Memphis agreed. The group, which sought to revitalize design by rejecting conventional standards in favor of a bold, colorful, novel approach to product design, invited Shire to Milan to work with them. This lead to a series of projects that toyed with the intersections of industrial design and fine art, and gave Shire the opportunity to work in glass, metal and other new mediums.
Since the Memphis years, Shire’s work has continued to expand. Drawing inspiration from his neighborhood in Echo Park and the ever-changing city of Los Angeles, he continues to construct his teapots while also branching out into large scale sculpture, works on paper, and even painting (of course on clay). Shire’s paintings, a unique part of his work that he has been producing since the 1970’s, are done on slabs of clay in ceramic glazes. Almost all in portrait format, they focus exclusively on his life in Echo Park, reflecting the many faces that make up his neighborhood. Shire has now made over 500 of these painted tiles, which have become a personalized record of the history of Echo Park. In addition to this work, Shire has done various commissions for public places and private buildings throughout Los Angeles.The colorful tile murals and large scale sculpture he creates, which playfully reflect on the good and bad of life in a modern city, allow him to add his own point of view to the streets and buildings of the city he knows so well.
1970 Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, B.F.A.
Archer M. Huntington Gallery, Austin, Texas
Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
Berkeley Museum, California
Colburn Center for the Performing Arts, Los Angeles, California
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York
Fresno Museum of Art, Fresno, California
Houston Museum of Art, Houston, Texas
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Judisches Museum, Frankfurt, Germany
Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California
Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, California
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California
Lucille Salter Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford University, California
Matthew Center Art Collection, Arizona State University
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Mint Museum of Craft and Design, Charlotte, North Carolina
Museum of Arts and Design, New York
Museum of Modern Art, Lodz, Poland
Newport Art Museum, Newport Beach, California
Oakland Museum of Art, California
Österreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna
Portland Art Museum, Oregon
Sak’s Fifth Avenue Corporation, New York
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California
San Jose Museum of Art, California
Seattle Museum of Art, Washington
Skirball Museum, Los Angeles, California
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Total Contemporary Art Museum, Seoul, Korea
Victoria and Albert Museum, London