by Jesse Mathison

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Burges, 2015, Gesso covered chest illustrated in graphite and charcoal with enamel interior and antique brass fittings with an enameled and wax steel frame, 52″ x 38″ x 15″

The work of Peter Fleming is nuanced and precise. As he is a true student of his craft, his pieces are always juxtapositions of style and practicality, and the closer one inspects these objects, the more subtleties present themselves. Much like the artist himself, his objects are poised and deliberate. Possessing a comprehensive view of his craft, and being enmeshed in the process, Fleming finds the work naturally becomes a challenge on more than one level. 

Here is Peter Fleming in his own words…

One thing that separates me from a lot of other artists is that I’ve been building furniture for twenty years. I study history and I teach the history of decorative arts, and I’m constantly informing myself so I’m not just shooting off the cuff. It’s about more than having just an intuitive response to things, which is as far as it sometimes goes in the design world. I want to go deeper into that. So when I teach the history of decorative arts I teach it as the history of material culture, and that’s an important distinction because when people say decorative arts they think of really rare and precious and expensive things, but when you think of it as material culture, it expands.

“The design process is that you draw draw draw, and then you build. But because I’m doing it myself it’s more sculptural, and that changes my plan. I’ll think I have this idea for what I want to do, and then as I start building it (because I’m the one building it as opposed to sending it off to be built) I’ll change things, because it’s only once you’re in the middle of the process that you can start to see it. You can’t really see things until they’re right in front of you, and that’s especially true for the design world because we live on paper, and usually it’s someone else’s hands that execute the idea.

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Peter Fleming reflected in his work, Lorella, 2015, Cast bronze, enameled steel, antique mirror, brass – Photograph by Rob Lindsay

“And what I’ve found recently is that I have to be able to make some mistakes in the process. If I’m not making mistakes then I’m not trying hard enough, so sometimes I’ve needed other people to help me edit, because I’m trying to say too much or I need someone else’s perspective to say, You don’t always need that extra detail. But I do want to make sure that people see the use of fragments and antique fittings and things like that, the small touches, because sometimes they’re the driver of a work, like the wheels on a cart.

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Hertzog, 2015, American black walnut, steel, graphite, 45″ x 16″ x 3″

“Sometimes I’ll find bits and pieces and I won’t know how I want to use them, but then entire structures will grow out of trying to work around these objects. For example, one of my pieces was constructed around a set of wheels that I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to use and eventually turned into a hold or stand, which, generally speaking, is a piece of furniture that we no longer use. And another piece of mine is a serving cart, and the entire notion of serving somebody from a cart doesn’t exist anymore. So that’s a big part of how I think about things, those rituals of life that have or had a specific piece of furniture.

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Hertzog, 2015, American black walnut, steel, graphite, 45″ x 16″ x 3″

“Ultimately, I like the idea of the things that I do being approachable and not saying, I’m too important [for you] to come near me. I want them to be held and used and lived with. Most people see objects only as practical, so that’s the bubble I’m trying to burst, of function being seen purely as a practical thing, of objects being strictly functional. Most people don’t see furniture that way, so it’s important to place it in this other context, as well as other objects that could be functional from a psychological perspective.”

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Tea Cart, 2015, Honed Carrara marble tops supported by bole and wax finished steel on antique brass casters, strap leather pull and antique brass mounts, 25″ x 13″ x 23″

Peter Fleming’s Wrapped will be on exhibit at David Lusk Gallery November 17 through December 23. For more information, visit www.davidluskgallery.com/nashville

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