To say that Post Modern artist Martin Peeves is an individual is simply an understatement. He chooses to shrug off the mundane and live in an alternate universe that is both enticing and a little scary. Everything about Martin Peeves screams ‘different’ and he prefers it that way. Normalcy to him is weight that society has placed upon us. Martin Peeves does not carry any societal burdens – he shed that anchor a while ago. He now lives with a freedom and perspective that invites a slew of questions.
We were able to scratch the surface with Martin through a very illuminating Q&A.
“My older siblings used to draw and color and stuff, but I never really was interested in that, it seemed too time consuming.”
Could you please give us some insight into your background (origin, full name, heritage, sense of style, etc.)?
I am Eric Abaka. First off, Eric Abaka is the man. Martin Peeves (MP) is the ‘player’ and MP]IV[U is the system/console I play on. ‘MP’ is a product and the sum of the following ideas: Post-colonialism, African tradition, mass media and the social Pop-culture, Saturday morning cereal and cartoons, KungFu (Shaolin) flicks, 80’s-90’s hip-hop, Michael Jackson, The Wu-Tang (especially their use of aliases and references to KungFu), fashion, older urban/street wear (Karl Kani and Cross Colors), DigiModernism, Andy Warhol, Jean Baudrillard, Lefebvre, Basquiat, Bob Marley, Sun Ra, Bishop(from Juice), Dada(Duchamp), etc.
When did you know that you were going to be an artist no matter the odds?
Growing up as a little kid and being around the house running around, I had a “play room” where I just mostly chilled and did my own shit. When my friends came to visit, we would all hang out there. I never really did any art. My older siblings used to draw and color and stuff, but I never really was interested in that, it seemed too time consuming. I remember my eldest brother, Eddie used to make me color “within the lines” and I’d always be like, “why, I don’t really have to”. I liked toys, games and electronics. I didn’t even like Legos too much…you catch my drift… (I was high tech minded even then ….haha). Just from the way I thought about/saw things, my perspective was very distinct….from what I can remember…I was sure I was “different”…in a way that “I was very detailed and aware”. I liked to “look at things”. I was very observant and I liked stories. The line between “lying” and “storytelling” fascinated me as a kid, it still does. I liked cartoons, not just visually, but more importantly, the concept of an “animated life”. My interest to create cartoons began during my childhood and led me to drawing mostly cartoon characters that I saw on TV. I would mimic Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and others. Then my Dada (father) once told me (I remember that was a breakthrough moment too in my life!) – he told me I could/should draw my own characters because I was good at “copying”/mimicking “but that’s not original”. Even when I would claim that I had drawn the characters perfectly/exactly, he insisted that I be original. Coloring wasn’t very important to me as a kid although I did always want color markers, however, those were expensive and they would dry up too quickly because I would lose the caps. So my parents would try to get me water colors, and I hated that! (still not my favorite). As I got older, drawing/coloring on the computer via ‘Paintbucket’ solved all my problems! Haha.. I was never sure I was going to be an Artist. I always compared myself to characters I saw on TV. I remember watching a movie with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow where she cheats on her husband (Michael Douglas) with this guy who lived in a loft, slept all day and painted/worked at night. I think it was the dude from “A History of Violence”. I identified with that character (the artist) as a child and idealized that life. I was into “making things” because my Dada could “do anything”. My Dada could cook, fix cars and a bunch of other shit, so at a young age, I was into “activities”. I guess I’m really lucky because I just happen to be creative. I’m more of a creative resolver. Most things I do, I do them my way with a sense of a “creative art” aesthetic. Whether its performance i.e. me as an employee at my job, it’s like a stage play and I’m the actor (at least for 6+ hours every day). Every time I step out of my crib, it’s a film – “A day in the life of Martin Peeves”. When I cook, I do the same, I think, “hmm what would taste good and look good together”. Food is a combination of color and taste served like a painting on a plate.
Please describe your art philosophy and art style – what are you trying to convey with your work? What media do you prefer to work in? What inspires you the most?
My lifestyle is ‘I do it for self’; my philosophy is totally Post Modern – living and being according the ideology of “living in the now”. In line with this theoretical lifestyle, I use my creativity and whatever is available to me for inspiration, subject, theme, etc. to engage in activities that yield what I’ve began referring to as “Art of The Future Post Now”, “Art of the Now”, “Now Media Art”, or “Post Modern Art”. My philosophy also references other theories including, ‘Critique of The Everyday by Henri Lefebvre’, ‘Digimodernism’, ‘Hyperrealism’, ‘New media’ & other Post Modern critical topics.
I am an “Omni-media Creative” – I use my physical ‘self’ to express in whatever medium I have available. In my “Everyday Arbeit performance acts, life of Martin Peeves” work, I also use other people (their voice, bodies, their life narratives etc.) to express myself. Being Post Modern, there are a lot of variables that include referencing and remixing. Some themes that recur in my work are “all in one”, “for the people”, “what the people want”, etc. My works are layered and packed tight, but at the same time these layers are not apparently obvious.
Who is/are your biggest art heroes/inspirations/role models?
Definitely some musicians like – Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Jimi, Fela, Bob Marley, RZA and 2Pac. Music is a very key part of my work. I remember coming across a piece by John Cage (American composer, music theorist, writer, and artist) that was centered on the idea of ‘getting started’, it delved into how an artist begins to work. Music, some kinds of music, gets my “wheels greased and ready to be spun!” Few artists/visual art makers are my role models. I may like most of their works or the way they think but they are not my role models. I have a very conceptual approach to liking something or something being appealing to me. Sometimes, I prefer just the ideas of people versus their actualized selves. However, a lot of artists inspire me – I like Marcel Duchamp and the whole Dada scene, Dali etc. Jean Michel Basquiat is just the realest to me. He embodies the theory I adhere to – which is existing within a particular time, place, space capsule and then using all those entities as ingredients, media, source, work, inspiration all at once. That is what a relevant contemporary artist at a particular time does. Jean Michel Basquiat did that. In 80’s NY, his lifestyle and his work were all in sync. I also like Van Gogh and Munch – some of these early guys were brave enough to actualize the visuals they saw in their heads. I like Julian Schnabel’s films especially “Diving bell and the butterfly”. I really like Warhol, I think he was as much a Conceptual artist as a Pop artist. He seemed to be “deeply rooted” in some belief system.
What is the biggest compliment you have received about your work?
When kids are wowed or seem amazed by me, I take it as a huge compliment. The comparative compliments of my works to other famous artists are nice too I guess. I get Basquiat a lot! But I got no problem because I respect the man. I know I’m NOT trying to copy his work or be like him…maybe I might have some similar shit to his but I mostly learn from his grind. I respect and like the dude. He is like an artistic big brother. I want to do things like my big brother but better. I’ve been called “Black Picasso” before….I was like, “ok”. I like Picasso too…but Jean Michel chopped off that head for me so since then I have not been too much into Pablo too much since then. I don’t really look for compliments about my work. It’s more universal than a single praise or criticism so I try not to get caught up in that.
What is the strongest criticism that you have received about your work?
Hahaha, at first criticism was heavy on me – people would say my work was not African or that it was ‘white’ or it was associated with Jean Michel Basquiat. I used to be dismayed by that but I don’t really give a fuck now. Another thing I don’t like to hear about my work is when those “old ancient farts (fine artists)” ask me, “so who is your audience?” Duh! Do you ask the billboards on the city buses who their audiences are? My art is for anyone that can and wants to experience something. I don’t forcefully persuade you to like it but at least experience it, you’ll remember it and you’ll think about it.
Your work has a wild rawness to it, where does this aesthetic come from?
“Ohhh baby I like it raw”, ODB! Haha. You know, I’ve always known ‘raw’ to be ‘better’. Overcooked usually does not taste right. It’s usually not a conscious decision to make my work raw, it’s just a habit and a lifestyle which probably stems from ‘DIY’, not having much, and making do with what’s available. Society gets tricked with the over production of things made by machines that they eventually just throw away.
Out of your numerous pieces does one stand out as your favorite?
Phew that’s going to be difficult. Well let’s see. “My Peculiar Love Below” which was based on Andre3000’s ‘Love Below’ album is a piece I am fond of. I remade every song by changing the lyrics to suit my life (love)experience and then made my own performative videos of all the songs. It was a really “feeling” project all in all. it was an immersive 20 channel video installation – when u entered the exhibition you were in “my love below”, it was dope. I invited a bunch of my ex’s buddies but they’re on some ‘Girl-code’ shit so they didn’t show up. I recreated the scene of our bedroom with videos projected on the walls as wall drops (a couple of the videos are on vimeo – http://vimeo.com/57980548). Also, showing in UAE at the Annual Exhibition in Sharjah curated and organized by Emirates Fine Arts Foundation was very cool…we met with the crown prince and talked with him…I really enjoyed my stay there. There, they really enjoyed and appreciated my work especially my conceptual performance videos as I usually put/underline my works with a lot thought/references. Whilst there I showed a video of me playing this phonetically based game of deriving the many possibilities of how the statement “what is this” can be said and interpreted. I translated the work to Arabic when I was there “Mahaza”. I varied the pronunciation by stressing parts of the syllables. It turned out pretty good too, I was very pleased with how the work finally came out. Definitely one of my favorites! “Dizzy Blue Bird” is also one of my all-time favorite art works that I’ve made. It’s a painting – a portrait of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. See “Dizzy Blue Bird” below:
When things get really difficult in your life/art, what methods do you use to get back into the saddle?
I just allow myself the attempt to resolve things by thinking up solutions. It’s all meditative for me because I already know what will happen will happen and I can’t do much to alter this. I know I have to be smart. I pray a lot, talk to myself a lot and try to talk to God a lot. I listen to music and hear the lyrics of my favorite musicians singing about problems so I know a better day is coming. I try to be aware of the fact that I can’t be phased out by bad things. if I’m feeling down for whatever reason, I convert that energy into something creative outlet.
What song/s would you say describe you or your art the most appropriately?
Any music by jakGALT (that’s my DJ, I like to listen to) is just fantastic. He knows the vibe that can get me amped. I mostly like to zone in certain soundscapes that create an ambience for me to work. The music hast to be some funky shit – James Brown, juke music, Detroit techno, MoodyMann, Black music, Afrobeat, roots reggae, Lee Perry, Sun Ra, Radiohead, Dj Screw, Fela, Wu-tang, Kanye, Footwork, Dj Nate, Dj Roc. I also like the Chicago music scene. My art can also be described through deep sonics like Portishead and Stereolab. Most of the time, I just make my own music.
Is there a particular audience that you are trying to reach with your work? What demographic (if any in particular) does your work resonate the most with?
Peeves pretty much does it for everyone and anyone. I throw my net out in the sea. I’m not picky so I am cool with whatever I catch. I hope to catch likeminded people who are postmodern thinkers as well.
What are your feelings around the almost “pop star” like status of artists such as Banksy and the “bandwagoning” of the artist Basquiat?
I say, why not!? I am totally fine with it. I mean if guys like “Young Thug” and stuff are coming out and being “pop stars” then why not Banksy. Musicians have done a good job pushing their art form to the utmost mass-cultural frontier! It is up to visual artists to do likewise by any means necessary. Dali, Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean Michel did a great job getting their art out there but in the modern day, this energy seems to be lagging. So I like that JAY-Z did the Picasso Baby video and I like that artists like Rick Ross mention “red Basquiat on his wall” . I am TOTALLY COOL with that! The Hiphop culture wants to help and artists should embrace with open arms the collaborative opportunities.
There are all sorts of music awards worldwide but very few visual arts awards that are widely publicized. I mean there should Arts Awards like BET awards or the Grammys and shit. The International Art shows like the Biennales, Art Basel, Documenta etc. should be more mainstream! The visual arts need support.
What do you think is “most right” and “most wrong” with the art world today?
Like I said above, the collaborative efforts and the references in Hip-hop culture by bringing the “Fine Arts” to the mainstream is definitely an attitude I like that’s going on right now. I think more visual artists should be making pop music video collaborations or films, etc. I really commend Julian Schnabel for becoming such an acclaimed film maker with some mainstream success via the Basquiat movie and Diving Bell and The Butterfly. There’s an exhibition at ICA Philadelphia curated by Kara Walker with the theme and concept based on ‘Ruffneck Constructivists’ and at the opening Questlove and Flying Lotus were the DJ’s. These types of affairs further the reach of visual artists.
What are your ultimate goals for art? Where do you want your work to eventually end up?
My ultimate goal is for the belief I have about individuality, creativity and the way of being to be influential to others. Through the experience of my works and my endeavors I hope that other people would be inspired to be themselves and express themselves creatively according to their own might, abilities and experiences. I hope for my works to be displayed in “FREE PUBLIC” museums for everyone to experience. This is why, for now, I choose to display a majority of my Arbeit (works) on the internet.
What does “individuality” mean to you?
Individuality is my personal style. it’s who a man is. A person should be an individual otherwise you’re just someone else. Individuality it means identity. An individual is a person of interest. I’ve been working with school age children K-8 and its interesting how at that age their unique individual characteristics are so ever-present. It’s very obvious, “who, how and what they are”.
They always appear effortlessly very proud and confident about themselves.
It eventually starts to get tough to hold up and establish your own individuality in society but it is vital that you do.
If you were told you were going to die tomorrow, what would you paint today?
I don’t think I would paint. I would probably make ‘joyful noises’, embark on a ‘muse-seeking’ trip and make music. Then I will blast the music loud, smoke, catch a trance, dance and probably cry because I would be expecting something climactic. I’d be filming this whole experience to be screened as, “The Peeves Last Supper”. When I die, my artwork would be overseen by the Nana Appiah Arts Foundation jointly co-operated by my siblings, Evelyn Poku-Kwateng-Abaka and Edwin Abaka and managed by Joe Girandola and Mohammad Kazem.
What three things do you want people to know about you and/or your work?
I want people to believe in themselves as creative beings able to create by the touch of their hand. I want people to know that my work is ‘real life shit’ with substance. My art is not artificial. Martin Peeves is really about man’s creative living/existence during his active times in the world.
How can interested parties acquire some of your pieces?
On Facebook, – Let me know what you’re thinking of owning/having. You can familiarize yourself with my works here. I am available for private commissioned works in personal homes, custom clothes and other collectibles. I am also into music videos and available for collaborative creative artistic audio visual projects preferably with musicians. I have some music on here. You can also visit my web store here.
See Slideshow for more of Mr. Peeves’ work.