‘You’re not supposed to say this,’ says Eddie Peake, ‘but I like everything I do.’ Perched on a stool in his studio at the Royal Academy Schools in London, where he is currently midway through a three-year postgraduate course, he is referring to a series of works that he has just finished that afternoon. Leaning against the wall, each one is a haze of highlighter-coloured spraypaint, with jaunty lettering (made using masking tape) exposing the mirrored surface beneath. It takes me some time to decipher the word ‘Erection’ amid the fragments of my own reflected face.
It’s the first of many phallic encounters as I look around the studio, including the classical male nude printed on Peake’s T-shirt and the black and white photograph of the artist lounging naked on a Modernist sofa pinned to one wall. ‘I walked into this incredible room in Palermo,’ Peake recalls, ‘and just had to take my clothes off’ (he features prominently – clothed and otherwise – in many of his works). The photograph is genuinely beautiful, in deliberate contrast to the painted panels – emblazoned with slogans like ‘Hetro Boys’ and ‘Puttin the Don in ldn’ – that hung alongside it during the group exhibition ‘Glaze’ at Bischoff/Weiss in London last summer. Similar oil paintings, featured in his solo exhibition at Southard Reid in London last autumn, bear acid-coloured slogans that are nostalgic for the 1990s but in a way that feels mockingly au courant. Against this, the photograph reads as a sexually ambiguous riposte to the haunting self-portraits of the young, naked Francesca Woodman, who, like Peake (a former scholar at the British School at Rome) also spent a formative year studying in Rome.
The evening that we met, Peake presented a new work, titled Touch (2012), at the Academy Schools, which involved a 30-minute game of naked five-a-side football. The title suggests his interest in the inherent tactility of sculpture – think of Goethe’s description of when ‘marble comes doubly alive for me [...] as I ponder, comparing / Seeing with vision that feels, feeling with fingers that see’ – while literally exposing the homoeroticism of male contact sports. There is a serious silliness to this piece (‘a seriousness about silliness’, we agree) that makes light of constructed gender norms.
Peake’s website, meanwhile, consists of nothing but a fuchsia-tinted close-up of two hands clutching an erect penis. There’s something both playful and pointed about this use of explicit imagery as it references the seedy underside of the Internet while parodying the stereotypical pretensions of the male artist. ‘I don’t really enjoy websites as a format for experiencing art,’ he explains, ‘but since there was that space available, I wanted to make use of it and decided to create something that matched the average amount of time I spend on any given page.’ Unlike the more typical artist’s website, which endlessly archives art works and exhibitions in the same way as any commercial gallery, this image was made specifically for this purpose and the site has remained untouched (pun intended) since 2006.
This combination of expedience and care characterizes much of Peake’s practice: he inhabits many roles – painter, sculptor, performer, choreographer and curator – but is careful to define himself ‘as an artist rather than in relation to any particular medium’. After graduating from London’s Slade School of Fine Art in 2006, he began working collaboratively – ‘as a fairly pragmatic gesture’ – exhibiting with London-based artists including Paul Simon Richards and Jason Dungan. Since then, Peake has worked with collectives and artist-run organizations including Lucky pdf and Auto Italia South East, although he says that, ‘at a certain point, I had to draw a line under it because I didn’t like losing myself’.
Despite the omnipresence of ‘Eddie’ (he has ‘Peake’ embroidered onto the back of his denim jacket), there is little arrogance to his work. Peake’s recent exhibition at Cell Project Space, London, for example, featured vhs footage from his family archive, but only as a teasing addition to his narcissistic persona. Threading through this diverse practice is an understanding of identity as a joyful masquerade, in which his costume of choice literally lays bare societal attitudes to sex. As his sister, the poet Clover Peake, wrote in the press release for his solo exhibition at Southard Reid: ‘We laugh because it’s funny – all the stomping and beating of the chest – but what else can we do?’
In March, Eddie Peake had a solo show at Cell Project Space and was included in group shows at Jonathan Viner and Sadie Coles hq, all in London. ‘Ruby’, an exhibition he curated at Gallery Vela, London, uk, runs from 27 April – 26 May. Upcoming projects include new performance commissions for Oil Tanks, Tate Modern, and the Chisenhale Gallery, London, as well as a solo show at Galleria Lorcan O’Neill, Rome, Italy (all in July). Peake will be included in a group show at David Roberts Art Foundation in September and has a two-person show with Prem Sahib at Southard Reid, London, in October.