Cable Griffith, a painter and professor at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, caught up with Peter Scherrer, a 2016 Two Coats of Paint resident artist, to check out Scherrer’s paintings at Salon Refu in Olympia. Both painters work with landscape imagery, and their conversation explored memory, the woods, and the importance of narrative in Scherrer’s new work.
Cable Griffith: Maybe because we both work with landscape imagery and live in Washington, your work feels very familiar to me. There’s a sense that something is going on, as if a presence is embedded in the woods. But these paintings seem to be much more about depicting particular events or a narrative. And the titles seem specific to your own experiences.
Peter Scherrer: Yeah, there are certain works here that are from specific places and experiences. I’ve always gathered source material from road trips, hikes, and walking around my neighborhood, and subconsciously it finds its way into the paintings. Lately, I’ve tried to make it more intentional and personal, and to go deeper into my headspace and my surroundings. I think this exhibition, and my art making in general lately, has become much more personal. That’s what interests me. So, yeah, my paintings are full of specific narrative that speaks to my own experience.
CG: I feel like you are retelling a story or a favorite memory in each painting.
PS: Rubber Boa Clayton Beach is definitely based on one of my favorite stories. As a kid, I wanted to be a herpetologist. My favorite snake was the Rubber Boa, and I always looked for them–they live around here–but I never found one. And then, recently, I went to Clayton Beach with a friend who had moved up from LA. I was telling him about my lifelong search for the Rubber Boa when I put my hand on a tree and one almost crawled down my arm! After 25 years I finally found what I was looking for.
Purple Woods is about car camping with my girlfriend on the Olympic Peninsula and being in the woods at dusk. It’s that moment when you pull into a campsite and you think, “This is kind of weird…are we going to get murdered?” But the trip was really romantic and great. And we survived.
Theo and Me in the woods at the Bogachiel at Dusk is about a hike I went on with my son. It’s also about that time of day where you think you see things–it’s an interesting time of day to approach landscape painting. My Garden is a portrait of my garden with a fence around it. I love my garden, so I painted it.
CG: The one behind you, Theo and Chewy, is different from the others. It’s more clearly an interior space and much more descriptive. I can almost identify everything in it.
PS: My house is getting torn down so I just want to paint it a bunch right now. I think there’s a lot of presence in old houses and especially this one that I’m so familiar with–I’ve raised my kid in it. It’s a very complicated space for me, so I think it’s interesting subject matter. And I like how that painting turned out because it’s really busy, but there’s one moment of infinite depth, which is the door.
CG: In almost all this work, in terms of what is being described, the images seem to hover on the edge of recognition. Some things are clear–I recognize a car or a figure–but there are other areas that are left open for me to complete, or make my own decisions about what is what. It seems like a very intentional decision to stop describing.
PS: I’ve always loved work that hovers on the edge of representation and abstraction. One of my favorite periods in painting history is the early to mid-20th century, when painters were all asking “Are we going to go abstract or not?” I enjoy having multiple entry points into the paintings, narrative, surface, symbolism, color, and so forth. Maybe my mind is all over the place, and I let that happen on the canvas. The process, especially with those small ones, builds, and then goes away, and then builds again, going in and out of focus until I like it. I love feeling my way around in the swamp of the painting until I find something I can grab onto.
Peter Scherrer’s work is on view in a two-person show with paintings by Jean Nagai at Salon Refu Gallery, in Olympia, Washington, through May 30, 2017. In September, look for a solo exhibition of Cable Griffith’s deconstructed landscapes at G. Gibson Gallery in Seattle.