NY artist Peter Tunney has been around the block...many of them in New York and most recently Miami. Descriptive words which most often pop up are legend or legendary.
I met with the artist in both his Miami and Tribeca studio/galleries. A good deal of his art shares Tunney’s journey and personal view in large, clear prose. Meandering among the yelling canvases (“Enough is Possible”, “Change the Way You See Everything”, “Mind over Body”, “Don’t Panic”) one can’t help but come to a few conclusions.
First impressions: 1) Tunney is not a shrinking violet and 2) He has been on a few trips...planes, trains, dark corners, astral, chemical...you just can’t be sure, but he is Experienced, Jimi, and came out the other side high on life and its possibilities. Winning the game on this planet is not lost on him, or probably he’s creatively successful because the lessons dealt to Tunney didn’t get overlooked in the maelstrom of existence. The congruence of life and art come together in his very distinctive blend of joie de vivre and gumption.
I asked what the driving force was in this decade of life. “On a daily basis, I am certain that I'm going to run out of gas, lose my enthusiasm, my lust for life if you will...but then I wake up and it all starts all over again. My batteries are recharged and I get to go out there and TEAR IT UP for one more day. I love this f----in' life, warts and all. I mean, c'mon, what's the alternative?”
Being in his company I couldn’t imagine him running out of gas. There’s a lot of petrol running through that vehicle. “I work everywhere I go” Peter relates. “ If I’m driving, I’ll pull off the road if there’s a flat surface to work on. You are what you have with you. You need to be clear and free.”
Nothing is exempt from becoming a springboard to a new piece; burned dictionary pages are hit with silver, collages are covered with gel, resin or varnish, layered telephone books are carved into a bust of Willie Wonka.
How did he come to open the Wynwood Gallery and Studio (in conjunction with his NYC space)? “Tony Goldman said to me ‘Kid, I got a spot for you’.” So three years ago during Art Basel The Peter Tunney Experience became a central hub from which Wynwood Walls spins.
Was the Miami experience what he anticipated? “The My-Ami Experience has exceeded my expectations on every level. I didn’t expect anything,” shares Tunney. “ But there is quite a robust market in Miami. I sold a lot of things during Art Basel.”
As for a Miami objective in the near future? Getting Peter Tunney to commit to a verbal plan is like nailing jello to a wall: “I don't know anything about the FUTURE...but most likely I will head to Miami for Art Basel and camp out there for 3-5 months. The Miami gallery is open all year round but in July and August very few of my employees want to work there...Consequently, we're closed 2-3 weeks of the month.”
This ex-investment banker wasn’t always the bastion of positivity he exudes now. He comfortably often relates his somewhat torrid beginnings. “I went to a party when I was thirteen and walked out at forty-two.” This in itself is no effortless feat. The artist spent ten quality party years with legendary photographer Peter Beard in their NY haunts and beyond.
How has the work changed with his head change? “Before (the metamorphosis), I did Beyond the End of the World (exhibition) with Peter Beard. I’m not so pessimistic anymore.” And what was the catalyst to the after life? “I had an experience of gratitude, and decided I was 'gonna paint what’s in my heart'. I help (other) people on drugs, now.”
His encouraging messages are an antidote to more negatives images out there.
“The Scream becomes the zeitgeist of what we know now because of our world.” What if we “put up the message that everything is ok? Maybe I’m right.” Perhaps “it’s just a crisis of confidence.”
His mind might jump around excitedly, but his studios are pleasant, happy enclaves of bubbling creativity, clearly organized; the man is full speed in living mode. When I popped into his NY studio (invited, I do have some degree of social grace) he was diligently working with numero uno assistant, Galen Dorian, on a piece called “Nothing Happens Unless First a Dream”. Layered paint covered letters were peeled off to reveal images relating to the subject.
Peter Tunney also brings his propitious messages to unused New York billboards; instead of being screamed at to sue someone, erase pain, buy something useless, Tunney’s billboards uplift as you circumnavigate one of the most clogged and frantic cities of the world. The first five signs are up now, soothingly cooing such pithy thoughts as “Gratitude”, “City of Dreams” or “ We Live in a Beautiful World”.
All these guiding lights are offered by a man who’s checked out both sides of the fence. How can you ignore experience?
The Peter Tunney Experience
73 Franklin St. (Between Church St. & Broadway)
New York, NY 10013
220 NW 26th St. (Inside the Wynwood Walls next to Joey's Restaurant)
Miami, FL 33127
Books and Catalogues by Peter Tunney
My-Ami (About the Miami Experience)
A Beautiful World
A to Z
Dictionary Daze (L.A. Exhibition)
Peter Tunney Experiment
Peter Tunney Experiment V2
Peter Tunney Experiment V3
Peter Tunney: I'm Not a Perfect Person: Recent Paintings
all photos by Irene Sperber