I first came across Peter by chance, in 1999. His shop sign attracted me as I walked down a tiny cut-through on a back alley in Ambleside—a narrow road known as ‘The Slack’. The sign is as modest as the location: a list of short, pre-emptive statements the general public might assume to be true about him and his shop. Each is coupled with his own redress, written beneath—mainly exhortations to ‘find out for yourself’.
As I was to later learn, the invitation to explore on your own terms is a very ‘Peter’ approach to the world. His shop is not immediately beguiling, and it certainly doesn’t adhere to common precepts about display, but after a few moments of examination it reveals its own complexity and interest. Every corner is in some way marked by the hand of the maker. Peter himself often remains semi-visible behind a plastic curtain in his workshop, and when he emerges he is as modest as the shop—patient, jovial and at ease, never highlighting his wares. On every visit you discover a new aspect of his interests and of his lines of production; horn, leather and pet-food being the principle offers.
Peter’s paintings and drawings quickly demonstrate a humour and a charm inherent to all of his work. These small works—usually executed on paper postcards—are captivating vignettes of the habits and misdemeanors of the animal kingdom. From that first visit on, Peter’s shop has become one of the highlights of the tours I often organise for Grizedale Arts resident artists. In fact, for artists I think will enjoy his work—or for those that seem interested in a world outside of their own. For some it’s the start of a working relationship, for others the preeminent shopping opportunity of the Lake District. All, however, would be engaged and delighted.
Grizedale Arts has regularly brought Peter into its diverse projects. He has illustrated publications, made posters and worked closely with individual collaborators. In certain instances he has made new items, some of which have since become staples for him. Often artists have suggested projects to him, and with Laure Provoust in particular they unearthed a body of misunderstanding that produced many creative leaps and bounds, culminating in her Turner Prize winning installation produced in 2013.
It is notable that Peter’s work is generally less appreciated in his native Cumbria, despite its rural themes. To date, it seems that when his work is shown in a national or international, metropolitan, art context that it is read most positively—be that in London, New York, Seoul, Sao Palo, or Zurich.
I once persuaded him to attend a painting technique class. He endured two hours of instruction and commented afterwards, ‘it’s alright, but it takes the fun out of it’. This resistance to ‘improving’ is central —he makes things because he enjoys doing so. His working process is to move on once he gets bored, or to make something else. He never uses instructional material and generally works out a way to do something alone, regardless of the fact that this can sometimes have disastrous results. This approach is of course a very carefully considered one, in which errors are repurposed as moments of creative inspiration.
Over the years Peter has had a powerful influence on Grizedale Arts and on the artists we have worked with, not least through his imperative to make things that are useful and through his humour. His work speaks of a continual re-evaluation of making and its impact on everyday life, of the curse of it often being easier in the end to just do it yourself—and perhaps most importantly, of the importance of keeping going—of holding true to using art/making to make your life richer, more interesting, more connected, more productive and generous.
I am delighted to be able to present Peter Hodgson’s live/work ethos to a wider audience, in tandem with his first touring exhibition. He embodies many of the attitudes of the younger artists I admire, and of Grizedale Arts as an organisation: he lives a creative life of making and of craft, and in doing so, finds a slightly more comfortable place for himself in a difficult world.
Peter has never sought attention. Whilst this exhibition shines a spotlight on his life’s work, he will without doubt retain his own line, maintain his values and continue to answer his own questions.