Performance pioneer, Eddie Peake talks about sex and impact
by Maria Raposo
Go on Eddie Peake’s website and all you’ll find is a penis, drenched in fuchsia-pink. The site’s not exactly office friendly but it’s a good indication of Eddie’s work as an artist; he’s fascinated by the way society sees the body.
I meet Eddie in his East London studio. He seems on edge, carefully phrasing each sentence. When he’s asking the questions, he’s more relaxed. “Are you writing journalistic?” he says, peering curiously into my notebook. I explain I’ve made up my own form of shorthand. He nods – Eddie knows all about creating your own language.
In his paintings the young artist communicates in urban hieroglyphics, using phrases like “Stick 2 Ur Gunzz”. The words seem internet-inspired, as if born on the newsfeeds of Twitter but Eddie doesn’t use social media anymore. “I was freaked out by how public it felt” he says. “I’m using that speed of language but it’s not something I’m fond of. I like proper discussion about things and Twitter only caters to slogan-type sound bites.”
Instead, this language springs from his North London upbringing. “The reason I wanted to use those words was because I felt they were particular to me, my friends and the people I grew up with. Before I entered art school, the demographic of people I was surrounded by was much more diverse than it is now – there’s a real lack of social diversity in the art world.”
The words “LDN Ting Swear Down” and “L8rz Yeah?” are set against boards smudged with abstract color. Black and white nudes form the background; their bodies twisted into statuesque shapes. Despite all his travels, Eddie feels like there’s a “long umbilical cord” pulling him back to his hometown. His works ring with his affection for London: a body conscious city, powered by aesthetics and sound-tracked by its own language – a mish mash of different cultures.
Aside from his painting, Eddie is well known for his boundary-pushing performance art which is often interpreted as very sexual. He’s shown work at The Tate, The White Cube and his naked five aside football match at The Royal Academy made waves amongst the critics.
“Surely the body, of all things, doesn’t have an inherent meaning. So it must be the case that any meaning we give to it is societal”
His performance could easily be mistaken for dance or theatre, it’s so carefully choreographed. But Eddie believes what anchors it in the art world is its setting – the gallery. Seeing himself as the producer, he threads together a series of coded gestures as his dancers flirt with issues of power, sex and gender. Slow and powerful, every movement is strikingly photogenic but this isn’t the artist’s intention. It’s all about impact.
The eroticization of the body is a theme that leaks into most of his work. He presents nudity in a way that is confrontational because he wants to test how his audience projects meaning onto the body. “Surely the body, of all things, doesn’t have an inherent meaning. So it must be the case that any meaning we give to it is societal”. He strives to free the nude from being automatically sexualized or associated with certain groups of people. How can an image be gay or straight, male or female?
Online, Eddie’s name is trailed by the label ‘homoerotic’ – a perfect example of the way imagery becomes quickly categorized. “I want to take imagery and separate it from any gendered ownership,” he says. “I’m using the body in a way that is an extension of my personality and interests but I hear people say what I’m doing is odd. They think that kind of imagery belongs to this demographic or that demographic."
Between 2008 and 2010, Eddie lived in Rome and his time there is an obvious influence. “Rome is packed to the rafters with imagery of the body. Before I went I was thinking about actions and gestures and community effort but now I think about imagery as well”.
His imagery is a huge part of his success – always carefully composed. In his photographs, paintings and performance he draws on classical elements, reminiscent of Italy’s rich figurative history. “I still think of history as a burden that we, particularly artists, carry around with us and have to grapple with, but now I’m more willing to embrace that burden as something I can work with in a joyous way.”
His music tastes turn into collaborations and he has incorporated Kendrick Lamar and Kool London into his practice. In the summer, he performed alongside electronic musician, Actress and videographer, Nic Hamilton in an East London church. I wanted to ask him about one move in particular that had stuck in my mind ever since the event. Again and again, his troupe of female dancers would raise a fist and simultaneously, with the other hand, grab their crotch. Alongside chest rattling bass and Hamilton’s otherworldly projections, the imagery – black power mixed with brazen female masturbation – was incredibly potent.
“That was a movement I lifted from a film that Prince made called Sign O the Times” he tells me. “Prince had a dancer in his band called Cat. There’s one move that she does, right at the beginning of that concert which I just love – it’s so simple, but powerful – you’re right; it has all those coded gestures in it.”
Alongside Prince, Eddie cites his older sister Florence as an influence. “Florence is quite a well known dancer, choreographer and performance artist, so I grew up with that going on around me”. Eddie lets his life and interests seep into his work, resulting in a very personal creative language. A pioneer in modern day performance, his work is refreshing because it’s genuine.