When Tate Modern announced its international line-up for this summer's launch of its new galleries, only two British artists were included: 89-year-old Jeff Keen, the pioneering experimental film-maker, and 30-year-old artist Eddie Peake.
Peake's trademark spray-painted sherbet-coloured smiley faces and recent nude football performance showcase a devil-may-care attitude that chimes with the current moment and a cheekiness that captures the attention. His work is already known among international collectors living in London but his recent inclusion in a group show by trendy gallerist Sadie Coles in the West End and a forthcoming solo show in Rome add to the buzz. Today, however, he is in his small studio at the Royal Academy Schools, where he is completing his MA.
Peake credits the YBA generation of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, who "forced themselves on the public", as a major influence as "it was their intention that proved an influence more than the work of any of the individual artists". He recalls finishing at the Slade several years ago and leaving London to focus on getting his work into the public eye. His strategy was simple: "I never said no to anything."
As a result of this industrious start, he claims, there was no time when his work was not on display somewhere in the world. Peake tells me that, like so many of his generation, he does not have a traditional studio practice – coming to work every day – but comes when he needs to sort out various commissions. He says he sees himself as "more of a producer than a director"; and, as much of his work relies on collaboration, he is often hanging out with dancers, musicians and fabricators.
Hanging in higgledy-piggledy fashion are small, vibrant paintings daubed with slogans couched in the slang of north London, where Peake hails from. Later these will be added to the striking black-and-white poster images the artist has become notorious for. Things are tacked up ruthlessly with drawing pins, as if they were worthless notations. A knowing casualness and sexuality infuse the space.
Eddie is dressed to impress. Teri Pengilley arrives to take his portrait and asks him to paint something while she shoots. He agrees, saying she has to wait for him to mix his colours.
Using a small brush, he starts to produce his characteristic blurred marks, having first carefully smoothed down several taped masked areas on the canvas. Becoming engrossed in the work, he hums unconsciously, leaning in carefully to pick out some bits from the surface.
"I can't stand bits in my paintings," he says with a cheeky smile. I leave with the incomplete work in my mind, thinking that, under all that bravura is, dare I say it, an old-fashioned craftsman, worthy of his studio.
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