peter-d-gerakaris-tropicalia-install-central-space-panorama-1200pxThis interview was published in The EP, The Original Eye Issue in Spring 2016.

American interdisciplinary artist Peter D. Gerakaris’ “pop-botanic” style tickles the retina and mind, presenting a postnatural vision of nature as if diffracted through a pop-cultural lens. We sat down with Gerakaris on the closing night of his exhibition Tropicáliaa 1,000 sq. ft. immersive, site-specific installation on Roosevelt Island commissioned by Cornell Tech–to discuss his recent opus, the creative process, and his foray into the fashion world.

HZ: Your practice has become increasingly interdisciplinary over the last two years. Let’s go back to January 2014 when you were commissioned by Grey Area and Bergdorf Goodman to create a window installation for “10 Artists for 10 Spaces.” How did your original eye lend itself to this project?

PG: I will bracket everything by saying the creative process begins with a direct connection between the eye, the brain, and the human hand. Naturally, the eye is essential. As a visual artist, I think my work boils down to the act of seeing; therefore I am very conscious of the limitations of human perception and hope to evoke this for my audience. With the Bergdorf project, I stepped out of my “analog” comfort zone by digitizing my original paintings. This process allowed me to produce a stage-set like window through origami sculpture, installation and large-scale visuals. High tech printing enabled me to digitally remix versions of my artwork at a very high resolution.

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HZ: What would you say was the most unique aspect about your BG window project?

PG: Two things struck me about the project. One was the highly visible public nature of the piece on Fifth Avenue. The experience felt more public than private because the artwork was more accessible than a typical white cube exhibition space–viewers did not have to walk into the store to participate with the artwork or to look at the fashion. The second element that was fascinating is how organically the art and fashion came together for my window display. I assumed Bergdorf’s would come to me and say, “Here is the fashion item we have selected for your window–please create an artwork around that.”  It was actually the contrary. Art Director David Hoey handpicked a Pucci dress that uncannily matched my window after the art was made. The dress also tied into the concept of my Rappaccini Series, where the figure becomes a vehicle for camouflage. Inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale Rappaccini’s Daughter, the muse is as much plant as she is human; therefore her body is camouflaged into the background so figure becomes ground and vice-versa. Considering the purpose of Bergdorf’s window displays is to sell garments, I think it was a bold move by Hoey to choose a garment that essentially was camouflaged into the installation.

HZ: One might say Hoey has an “Original Eye” too!

PG: Absolutely!  Your point also connects to the giant eye in the middle of my window installation: the Rappaccini muse stares back at thousands of gawkers fixated on looking. An extreme kind of voyeurism occurs through these storefront windows therefore I got a perverse kick out of playing up the spectacle that is window-shopping on Fifth Avenue.

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HZ: Most of your works resist traditional figures and faces, yet you have found a way to incorporate a human eye into many of them. These eyes are captivating, as they tend to follow the viewer as they walk from one side of the room to the other. In addition to your Bergdorf window installation, this heady effect is particularly emphasized in Rappaccini Chartreuse Muse Tondo, and in Carnival Kriol Mask, which is a central work in Tropicália. What is your message?

PG: I don’t think it is my place to overprescribe or dictate any meaning—it is really up to the viewer what they get from the work. As an artist, I’m a vessel through which different energies are transmitted. What I can say more specifically about Carnival Kriol Mask is it was deeply inspired by my travels both in the Caribbean and the Cape Verde Islands, West Africa during an artist residency program. I happened to have been in Cape Verde during Carnival, which is one of the most sacred and celebratory events for the Kriol culture. The islands are pulsing with energy and people are expressing themselves by dressing up in costumes and wearing masks. Carnival Kriol Mask is very evocative of that experience.  It also ties into a larger mask series I have been creating which I consider to be “global masks”. Rather than creating a mask that is specific to any one culture or region, I am trying to create masks for a hypercoherent global time: masks that remix and combine all cultural motifs into one visage. They are also psychologically charged so that they translate into ‘inside-out’ masks where I am able to wrap the inner psyche onto an exterior that is normally meant to conceal. In this case, I think the eyes are really portals into a metaphysical being that work both ways: they are gateway into another person but they are also gazing at us simultaneously.

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HZ: Your masks convey an incredible amount of spatial dimension even though they are rendered in 2D. Actually, I’d say all of your 2D works are extremely multifaceted. Do you have a background in sculpture or working in 3D?

PG: Although my father is a sculptor and I have made sculpture, I’ve never considered myself a sculptor. But the spatial dimension you pick up on is intentional. Whenever I create a work I feel like I am constructing an image as if I am creating a stage set or a sculptural space, which is why it was not a big leap for me to create the Bergdorf window installation.  I often play with impossible perspectives and shallow depth while confronting things from a frontal angle. For Tropicália, I introduced a new layer of dimension by inviting viewers to wear ChromaDepth 3D eyewear, which allowed me to create 2D artworks that had a 3D implication. This means I did not have to alter my original work in any way; for example, in 3D film you have to offset images in order for the effect to really work. With the advanced technology of ChromaDepth 3D, the original image remains totally unaltered to the naked eye, but you get that extra layer of enhancement and color space with the glasses. What is fascinating to me is the way the ChromaDepth 3D separates colors into a foreground, a middleground and a background depending on the hue. The viewing experience also changes depending on how long the viewer is staring at color and how near or far they are standing from the artwork. It can either negate or enhance dimension.

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HZ: Would you say the ChomaDepth 3D eyewear changed your art making practice?

PG: Yes. It has changed my process by further honing my sensitivity to color in the studio, which is something upon which I am constantly trying to expand. I was so inspired by the ChromaDepth experience I made a painting in response to it, called Rappstraction I Diptych, which is on view at Gallery Nine5 right now. Most importantly, I feel the process was a breakthrough in terms of generosity to the viewer. During Tropicália, I got very candid feedback from the public just by watching people come in and express their visceral responses. One person expressed that the ChomaDepth 3D eyewear gave the artworks “space to breathe,” such that all of the elements were not competing on the same plane. Time and time again, I would hear people exclaim that Tropicália was like two different exhibitions depending on whether or not you opt for the eyewear! In essence, I was able to create two experiences out of one by offering a shift in perception. Pushing the work in terms of scale and spatial dimension took it from a representational space into an experiential space.

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HZ: Tell me about your latest fashion project with Print All Over Me.

PG: I never would have thought my art would be a gateway into fashion until the Bergdorf window Installation. Subsequently, many art-loving and fashion savvy friends suggested I make wearable art. So after a steep learning curve, I learned what was possible in terms of fabrication, print technology and fabrics. I connected with Print All Over Me, an online style incubator that helps artists and designers cross over into fashion to create capsule collections. We figured it would be a great cross-pollination project to design a line of art leggings based upon Tropicália. I took four primary vignettes from the installation and turned them into four legging designs. Each pair has a different mood and character. They launch Sept 8 and will be available through the PAOM website.  For me, I see the leggings as a canvas for expression that hugs the human form.