venture to the stars with artist gio black peter
The hell-raising Guatemalan-American artist has a slew of shows that celebrate sexuality as life force, all in a riot of colour.
If you spot Gio Black Peter in New York, chances are he'll be surrounded by friends and disciples, all drawn to the total freedom and joie de vivre with which the eternally boyish artist lives his life. He'll be topless and ecstatic in the club, captivating in conversation at a gallery or weed-mellow and stark-bollock naked on Jacob Riis's gay beach. Gio allows his life to seep into his work, creating visceral visuals, full of love, lust, longing, reflection and violence. If poet John Giorno says, "I want to cum in your heart", then Gio wants to cum on his/your canvas. When you look at his art, he wants you to "give birth to my babies in the form of feelings and ideas you didn't know you had in you." With an established underground following in NYC and a growing fan club in France (the Hyères International Festival of Fashion & Photography invited him as their guest artist for their 30th anniversary last year, and his next show is in Toulon from 30th January), we thought it was time to catch up with Gio as he prepares for a series of transatlantic shows.
When did you get into art and why?
I've been lucky in the sense that I've always made art. I must have been an artist in my past life because I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. At school kids would ask me to draw them. In exchange for the drawings I would get them to buy me lunch, do my homework and show me their underwear. Nothing's changed.
You don't shy away from strippers, nudity, orgies, bondage and more. Not many artists cover such themes.
You need balls to make good art. I have big balls. It's in my genes. Robert Mapplethorpe is my father, and in my house we were taught to look straight into the sun. Though I make money making art, I don't make art to make money. See the difference? I express what I want how I want. Freedom.
Why do you think you're so willing to deal with it? Is it because it relates so much to the life you live?
In the words of Picasso: "Sex and art are the same thing".
Animals and nature seem to be creeping into your work more. What's behind that?
In heart I'm a bruja [witch]. My works celebrates life and nature is life. Fauna and flora play an important part in my visual vocabulary. In fact, I'm more fond of animals and plants than I am of humans these days.
A lot of the figures in your work are having sex, falling, fighting, dancing, posing. Can you talk about the movement in your work?
I like to tell stories. The actions of the characters pertain to the story I am telling. When you make figurative art, movement is everything. The characters in my work are dancers. Sex too can be a type of dance. So can fighting.
What are the similarities and differences between your paintings/collage and your performances?
Everything I do comes from the same creative vein. I can't compare them in this way because they are all different heads of the same hydra.
I see that Gauguin, Genet, Haring and Basquiat are all influences. Can you talk about how they've influenced you?
I love them because they lived their life the way they wanted. They created what they wanted to create. They made their own reality and I am doing the same.
How did you come to be invited to be the guest artist at the fashion and photography festival in Hyères last year? Now you have this new show in Toulon. Is there a reason you seem to be so big in France?
There are many great French artists that I admire, so I would like to think that maybe France sees a little of them in my work. Hyères invited me because they liked my work. I stayed in Villa Noailles, which at one point housed the likes of Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. You can still feel their presence in the atmosphere. At night their ghosts visited my room and we drank whisky until the sun came up.
What will you be doing in tonight's performance and what can people expect from the exhibition?
The performance is at La Tomate in La Valette in collaboration with L'Eclectique. I will be performing a couple of spoken word pieces and songs. The art exhibition is called "Mr. Bad Guy." It's curated by Yann Perol and features a selection of paintings, drawings, video work and portraits done on wood glory holes. Some of the work is about my all time heroes, which I like to call "the bad boys club". Members include Icarus, Rimbaud, Joan of Arc, Prometheus, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Satan of course. Then there will be a spoken word performance with Hifiklub.
And what do you have in store for the New York show?
My New York exhibition is called "If We Do Not Destroy Ourselves". It will feature large paintings and illustrations based on my personal adventures while traveling. The title is taken from a Carl Sagan quote, which has become my mantra; "If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars."
Gio Peter Black performs at La Tomate in La Valette on Friday 22nd January.
Mr Bad Guy opens on 30th January at Galerie L'axolotl in Toulon.
If We Do Not Destroy Ourselves opens on 23rd March at Casa De Costa in Manhattan.
Text Stuart Brumfitt
Portrait Julie Fainke
Artwork courtesy Gio Black Peter