Peter Shire is the quintessential California postmodern artist. Working in a range of mediums, though most prodigious in ceramics, Shire's style blends the roguish irreverence of the 20th century with the color and formal concerns of the Bauhaus, creating playful, witty icons of American design.
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One of the reasons the Italians pulled me into Memphis and one of the reasons that I’m in California, is that fun is okay. In my work, that was always the goal—an aspect of feeling joy myself and communicating it, if in no other way than with the work. That’s what I want: I want to feel great all the time.
Four Things to Know About Peter Shire
He has lived in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles his entire life and currently lives in the modernist house his mother and father built in 1950.
Though he attended the influential Chouinard Art Institute (CalArts), he was initially rejected and had to take pre-qualifying classes in drawing.
He estimates that he has created over 50,000 ceramic mugs over the course of his nearly five decade long artistic practice.
In 1971, Shire and his brother Billy, along with their mom Barbara, opened Soap Plant, a shop in Echo Park that sold oils for bath products as well as handmade gifts. The store still exists today, and has expanded to include an art gallery, La Luz de Jesus.
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[I am] a ray of light having a human creative experience.
Peter Shire b. 1947
Peter Shire is a celebrated artist, working most notably in ceramics (and teapots, in particular), who first rose to prominence as part of the influential and radical Memphis design group. His diverse and lively body of work is a culmination of his west coast-sensibilities (he is a fourth generation Californian), a blurring craft and art, and a postmodern approach to color and form.
Shire was born in Los Angeles in 1947 and developed an early passion for craft, as his father was an illustrator and carpenter. He graduated from the influential Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles (now known as CalArts) in 1970. He came of age during a particularly rich period in California design—ceramicists such as Peter Voulkos, Gertrude and Otto Natzler and Ken Price elevated the medium in the 1950s and 1960s and the Pattern and Design movement of the 1970s emphasized surface pattern, kitsch and craft, challenging traditional notions of taste.
Upon seeing Shire’s colorful and anthropomorphic teapots in WET magazine in 1977, Ettore Sottsass invited the young designer to be part of Memphis, a radical design group that suited Shire’s irreverent and playful attitude. While part of Memphis, he created some of the movement’s most iconic designs, including the Bel Air Chair and the Brazil table. After Memphis dissolved in the late 1980s, Shire expanded his artistic output to include glass works, fashion, interior design, and toys. Of particular note are the public mural and sculptures he creates in Los Angeles, a city he has committed himself to and provides him with endless inspiration.
In 2017, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson presented Peter Shire: Naked Is the Best Disguise, a survey of his creative production. Shires’s work is held in such prestigious collections as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Stedlijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Objects have power and religion. We tend to think that art equals feeling, but design comes from a tradition of craft and then industrialization. Industrial design is about your own relationship to the machine.