“When I found my current studio in Berkeley, it housed a two-story warren of offices. After my demo, the building was back to how it must have looked when it was built as a print shop: a clean, simple volume of space with 20-foot ceilings and lots of light. Every afternoon, the scent of Rosemary Herb Slab comes wafting across the street from Acme Bakery. To put this in perspective, my previous studio in Bed-Stuy (Brooklyn) was on a block used by car thieves to torch stripped SUV’s. The heat melted the pavement.”
grew up in South Dakota and graduated from Yale University. After many years in Brooklyn, New York he now lives in Berkeley, California. Permanent collections featuring Wegner’s work include: The Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Getty Center, Los Angeles; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and The Yale University Art Gallery, among others.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
PETER WEGNER: On desks, tables, sawhorses, ladders, scaffolding, cherrypickers – whatever it takes and wherever it takes me. I have a sizable studio, but my largest pieces keep growing in scale, which requires me to fabricate them elsewhere. And the installation is invariably in yet another place. I find myself wearing a hard hat more than I had ever anticipated.
FYD: What is your favorite sentimental object at your workspace and why?
PW: At this point, anything analog is reassuring. Recently I’ve been looking at this spool of wire I found on the street in Tribeca. It had been run over several times and in the process became this beautiful drawing of itself.
“Comfort zone” – what is that? I’m troubled by language.
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
PW: A regular flat razor blade, the kind that comes in a box of 100, each with cardboard around the blade. There’s a lot of undoing that needs to get done.
FYD: What do you love about words?
PW: How they look. What they do and don’t and might mean. Where they come from. How abstract they are, how concrete they are. How everybody’s thoughts and sentences are made of them.
FYD: Do you use poetry or novels as inspiration in your art?
PW: Yes – poetry in particular.
I spend a lot of time trying to pay attention to the simple act of perception before the words crowd in to explain it all.
FYD: What kind of poetry specifically inspires you? Any poets you keep close to the vest?
PW: For years I’ve read John Ashbery almost every day. Stunning use of language, perfect pitch, endless surprise. And he’s often very funny. Here are a few opening lines from the volume I just opened: “Let’s make a bureaucracy.” ; “Meanwhile, back in …”; “Newfoundland is, or was, full of interesting people.”
FYD: I notate various rulers and flashcards in your work. Did you ever play Scrabble as a kid?
PW: My father had some slide rules that used to fascinate me when I was a kid. And yeah, I loved Scrabble. “K” is worth 5!
For years I’ve read John Ashbery almost every day.
FYD: In your writing, you have put forth various exercises in the way of declarative sentences. Does something like your “Imagine a day of the week without a name; make all your paintings on that day” help you step out of your comfort zone and consider new possibilities?
PW: “Comfort zone” – what is that? I’m troubled by language. More than troubled, obsessed. And equally obsessed by color. So I spend a lot of time trying to pay attention to the simple act of perception before the words crowd in to explain it all.
FYD: What troubles you about language? Is it because language is so important but easily misunderstood or hard to explain?
PW: Words come from … where, exactly? And mean what? According to whom?
FYD: Is there a quiet place you like to spend away from your own work? If you could spend a day at a museum; where would you go?
PW: I never spend a whole day at a museum. I go to look at one specific thing, then leave. I went twice to the Met to see only the Jasper Johns exhibition “Grey.” Both times it was illuminating and exhausting. For solitude, there’s a trail near my house that I run several times a week. I like leaves, twigs, dirt, the sun overhead. After a good run, there’s no you anymore. Then your thoughts can think you up again – if and when they need you.