This article is a part of the series Studio Talks, where MFA students will be interviewed about their creative process while studying at Columbia.
Peter Labier greets me in his brightly lit studio at Prentis Hall, the Columbia University School of the Arts building. The air smells strongly of oil paint and turpentine. An array of brushes is laid out in front of a midscale painting of two figures—one of his works in progress. Outside, the faint sounds of highway traffic and sirens echo by.
It seems to be the ideal studio setting for an MFA painting candidate like Peter. He has a few bare life-size canvases hanging on the wall, intended for his upcoming image-collage-painting project. They’re all inspired by moments frozen in time or drawings that he’s done before. The drawings are immediately captivating with their miscellaneous symbols and vibrant assortments of colors. After a viewing of his most recent work, Peter and I begin to discuss his creative process in current projects.
What types of things do you choose to make?
It’s really been different things at different times. Right now, I’m doing a process where there’s a lot of searching and finding for an image, and I don’t generally have an image in mind. In most of all these drawings I’ve been making, I’ve been doing a lot of marks and they’re mostly intuitive. There might be a photo or object. Something I’m not looking at. I’m still looking for something because I’m not just making a replica of the photo. The way things connect makes me think that art is just trying to make something physical out of the unknown.
What current projects are you working on?
I’m making a lot of drawings in different scales, just to find more images in that way that was intuitive. I’ve set up for some larger paintings and some of the next things I’m doing. It’s shifting a lot—what I thought I was going to do. In terms of the paintings I’m going to make, I was thinking of making paintings based on images that I had made in some of the drawings. But we’ll see. I also have some other ideas thinking about images that exist that interest me a lot.
Where did you find the inspiration for these current pieces?
Well, like I said, some of these do come from images that I’ve found, for some intuitive reason. It’s hard to put a logical answer to. The other ones were based from drawings that I’ve made in their own right. They’re images that exist now [that] I felt needed more drawing or seemed possible to make a painting from them. I was curious as to what would happen.
I’m very particular also about what images I make, and sometimes I just have no interest in making any. In a way, something happens for a search for images, looking for maybe even more sensual things that I do. I’m interested in a lot of moments where I’m not entirely sure what’s happening. In some ways when you freeze any moment—if it’s like a photo that something’s based on—everything sort of becomes a square as to what’s happening.
Were there any challenges you faced during the process of creating them?
Yeah. I always have moments when I’m working in this way when I don’t have a plan. When I really feel like it’s never going to end—like I’m never going to make something; like I’m going to keep kind of painting over things. That is really challenging, psychologically. And also if there’s another way that I can keep doing this, is this necessary? There are days when I do a lot of things physically but it doesn’t feel like I’m getting closer. But then I guess in the end it’s not really about producing things all the time so it’s fine.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
It would probably be having a stereo. It’s the truth. What else would it be?
What kind of music do you play when you’re working?
It’s really quite a weird range. Today I was listening to some classical music at one point and this producer J Dilla. And before you got here I was listening to this German band from the ’70s called Cluster.