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Embracing Uneasiness With Peter Doyle

“I like things to provoke a strange emotion”

Flipping the meaning of conventional beauty on its head, Peter Doyle uncovers a new realm within portrait painting that searches for moments of awe inside the peculiar and grotesque. As a self-taught artist, Peter approaches the canvas with the freedom to unleash whatever strikes him in the moment. The result? Something that could exist within the depths of a fever dream… A variety of characters, most of whom he knows well, are cast into his imaginative world filled with vibrant colours, varying scales, and an inherent drive to transform and reshape elements into pictures that are beautifully strange and thought-provoking. Currently based in Dublin, his most recent collection, THICK SPIT! was displayed at the Hand Tough Gallery. We spoke with Peter to discuss what lies between him and his creations, exploring the inspiration behind this untethered and distinctive approach to figurative painting. 

Hey Peter, how are you today?
I’m good thanks, and you?

Yeah all good! So taking it right back to the start, how did art first enter your life?
Art was always around growing up. My dad is great at drawing and I had a bunch of pals in art college and painting was something I respected a lot. It kind of went away for me for a while until I lived in Berlin in 2015-16 , I was looking for work so I interned at a gallery a friend had a connection with – I would help move the archive about. I was so impressed by the scale and the diverseness of the works so when I went back to Dublin I gave it a go myself!

That sense of scale is definitely visible in your own work. You’ve also written that graffiti was a big part of your life growing up, does your background in street art impact the way you approach the canvas now?
Yes definitely. You work pretty fast with graffiti – applying that to a canvas can help move things along in a nice direction, you have a sense of “winging it” as graffiti can be very spur of the moment. I like to work that way on multiple paintings 

In what ways does ‘winging it’ reflect in your style?
I think it makes the style a lot looser. I’m not as precious on the detail, I’ve not had any formal training – so I never really got bogged down on perfecting anything. The beauty of graffiti is that it’s so instant. I think if I went to art college I wouldn’t have the freedom to paint in that way.

Your work is filled with various enigmatic characters, what is your connection to the people you paint onto the canvas?
The vast majority of the people in the paintings are my pals and my partner Eimear. I tend to work from life… I like to know the sitter well. As I don’t work in a realistic sense, it’s nice to keep a bit of ambiguity with it. Whatever mood, that’s what the colour pallet will be… and unfortunately sometimes a really nice friend of mine will be subject to this like grotesque painting haha. I’ve also been recently doing some self-portraits. Or should I say I have been using myself as the main subject in the works – chopping and changing it.

Your paintings embrace a sense of surrealism, whether it be the way you chop and change the subject of the picture or perhaps involve a two-headed swan. Is this immersion into the world of surrealism a conscious aspect of your creative process?
I would never consider myself a surrealist artist but I like the fever dream aspect to it. To be honest it gives me an uneasy feeling – I enjoy how they portray light and colour. My experience with those things comes back to graffiti.

Could you elaborate on what this ‘fever dream’ aspect unveils to the viewer?
I want things to look a bit uneasy–  I hate the old equestrian style paintings of perfect and beautiful looking portraits. I like things to provoke a strange emotion. I’m using the person in my paintings as a carrier of this idea– to make someone question the way they look at the artwork. I love when people ask me things. You don’t want to just paint and be like “here’s a fucking pretty picture'” haha. You should say it’s a rotten painting or maybe a beautiful painting… what do you think about it?

While exuding a dreamlike quality, your work also manages to ground itself in the essence of everyday life. Can you share where you find your inspiration?
Yeah totally! As a figurative painter you’re always drawn to looking at people in the way of a painting, I am inspired a lot in everyday life. Some make it to the work and some don’t. My phone is full of nonsensical notes. But that’s how I get my ideas.

Can you tell me a bit about your time spent in Cuba?
I went to Cuba with my friend and photographer Joshua Gordon, we spent around 10 days in Havana. It is a beautiful city. So full of character and the colours of the surroundings were like nothing I’d seen. It wasn’t until I came back to London and went through some pictures that I thought I can make these into my work. I went there pretty early on in my art career but it solidified my pursuit of being a figurative artist. The people were just great.

What are some of your favourite artists that have influenced you?
I find most of my inspiration would come from my friends around me and images I find. But I love looking at my friends work, my partner Eimear Lynch is a great photographer and inspiration. She is almost every women in the paintings I do. I also love the work of Mattea Perrotta ,George Rouy , Simone Rocha  Igor Moritz, Ewen Spencer ,and Hugh Mulhern. They all happen to be great fiends of mine, so I’m lucky to be around such a range of creative people in my life.

That’s really nice. Does having this circle help you to try out ideas? 
Yeah definitely having these people around you and speaking with them makes the work a lot more meaningful. I talk to all them, I just sent Hugh Mulhern a bunch of my paintings. But honestly anyone really like my girlfriend or my mates i hang out with in town. I’d rather talk to them than an art snob that’s going to ask me how my relationship was with my fucking mam haha.

Haha, yeah that is not ideal. It is also nice that you have such a diverse range of inspiration. In what ways do Simone Rocha’s designs inspire you? 
Simone does beautiful work with crocheting and patterns. I’ve been getting more and more into the idea of using Celtic designs. I also love the way she draws the line between beauty and horror. And it’s something that always draws me in.

Do you ever experience creative blocks? (if so) How do you get yourself out of them?
Yes, I had one that lasted for around 6 months while was living in Paris, it was the worst I’ve had and I know this is a cop out but you just have to keep working and hopefully something will excite you – easier said then done but changing up the materials you use can help also. Go look at art, go to a movie, have some drinks in a pub.

Do you have any rituals before or whilst you are painting e.g. listening to a specific kind of music, cleaning the studio or making it messy haha?
I listen to music over a speaker or pop a film on for background noise. I listen to anything really, the last thing I played was Dire straits. I also have a radio show on NTS so I’m constantly looking for new music. With the state of the studio I would have one part clean, where I sit and eat. But where I paint is more of an organised mess. I started using trollys and easels now so it seems a bit cleaner to me. Haha.

Who needs easels when you have Dire Straits haha. What are you manifesting for 2024? Are there any specific goals or projects you’re looking forward to?
I am working on some exhibition ideas right now that will be happening next year…I am also starting a more personal body of work which excites me. I would like to make a semi-switch over to oil paint. But over anything I just want to continue to work and push myself.

Amazing! Thank you so much for speaking with me today and we can’t wait to see what’s next 🙂 

Words by Dexter Burningham 


Images courtesy of Ewen Spencer and Peter Doyle