AWDB Spotlight: Interview with artist Piers Bourke  

AWDB talks to London-based Piers Bourke, one of the three artists participating in Peruke Project’s September group show ‘Itinerant Practices’. Bourke will be exhibiting a selection of new works on paper, together with his trademark postage stamp creations.

In your own words, what does the idea of ‘home’ mean to you? 

The idea of home is where my pets live, I have three dogs; Shiba Inu, Yuki and a Pugalier Mink. When we shipped Mink to live with us in Singapore and she arrived off the plane, our house in Singapore became home.

How has living a diasporic life shaped your practice? 

It completely made me understand that you can never stop learning and that curiosity is the key to being a successful artist. I pushed myself to adapt the work I was doing previous to the move, to add new concepts, materials and thoughts to my new surroundings.  This was hugely important to me as I couldn’t see the point of moving across the world to keep doing the same style of work. I also saw it as my role to document my living in that country and to try and add something meaningful to my stay which could be recognised by others and be taken home by myself and my family.

Piers Bourke, 'Singapore in Autumn' work in progress, 2023. Courtesy of the artist
Piers Bourke, ‘Singapore in Autumn’ work in progress, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

What countries or cultures have primarily influenced your work? 

Southeast Asian culture has been an ever present in my work.  When I first travelled to Vietnam in 2005, I designed and made, a traditional wooden chop, to sign all of my work. I had always loved the way Asian artists sign their work; so beautiful and neat.

My Grandmother was a big collector of Chinese and Southeast Asian art, so I grew up surrounded by the traditional designs and aesthetics which I think has been a subliminal theme throughout my work even before I moved to work in Singapore.  Currently though, Japan is leading my influence with my Vending Machine series which is due to launch in London, this Autumn.

You seamlessly fuse various cultural symbols into your works – from fans to phone boxes, stamps to flags. Beyond the aesthetic, what is the role and significance of these representations in your creations? 

 

The significance initially was to draw attention to aspects of everyday life that we take for granted. This was the idea behind the Stamps and Coin series, as I wanted the viewer to be able to see the details and design beyond what is possible with the eye, hence the scale of the pieces. But as I developed the concept, the internet was emerging at such a pace that these icons started to take on extra significance because our communication was changing so rapidly.  This led me onto the Phone Box series, as mobile phones were now becoming everyday items rather than quirky gizmos for businessmen who drove Jaguars and smoked cigars. Phone boxes started to become defunct and irrelevant for their intended purposes. For me it raised some interesting questions about individuality and how culturally we can differentiate between ourselves now that technology is making the world so generic and bland.

Piers Bourke in his London studio, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

The iconography of a fan seems to convey an exoticising of the object and possibly the user of it as well. Is this intentional, and why a fan? 

 

It is absolutely intentional. Fans are the antithesis of exoticism and spark the imagination of faraway lands and adventures.  If you grow up in a wet and cold climate, as I did, I always associated them with heat and warmer climates. I was looking for an object that could join my family of icons and it seemed the perfect fit with the heat and humidity of my new surroundings in Singapore.  There was obviously a further aspect to my choice because I was acutely aware of how fans over the centuries have been used as fashion items and objects of desire.  I wanted to add my own fan to the long tradition of using the motif as an icon of functionality and beauty.

In your latest series of works, you have used a variety of different sandpapers. How significant is the medium in your practice at large?  

 

I wouldn’t say hugely significant in the wider scheme of things, but an important material to add to the list of all the others I have used to make works over the years. I was looking for a more obscure type of material to work on, as it was an aim of mine to only create works on paper for a period. This became quite a challenge to keep the work fresh, so sandpaper was me reaching for the next type of paper. It has a very subtle, but beautiful sparkle, to it due to the way it’s made, and I was also particularly taken with the different tones of the paper depending on the abrasive nature of it. Very boring to most people!

Featuring the works of Piers Bourke, Lydia Janssen and Hélène Le Chatelier, ‘Itinerant Practices’ will run from 19 to 24 September 2023 at Cromwell Place in London.

INTERVIEW COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND PERUKE PROJECTS, SEPTEMBER 2023.