Interview by Casey WOJTALEWICZ

Peter Shire, Artist

Los Angeles, CA

If you're not familiar with Peter Shire, here are some of the facts. He was born, raised, and to this day lives and works in Echo Park (the same neighborhood we call home here in Los Angeles). His initial splash in the art world came through his Bauhas-inspired, collage-like reinterpretations of the traditional tea kettle: Auffen Gile and Gile Kilns two. In the 80s, he was invited to Milan and thus became a founding member of the Memphis Group—an art, architecture and design collective whose characterized by whimsy, eccentric colors, abstract decorations and asymmetrical shapes. While ceramics has been his chief department, he’s also delved in furniture, architecture and fashion. His creations have been featured in galleries and exhibits around the world.

Notoriety aside, we know Peter and his studio as a creative cornerstone of our neighborhood. We love his whimsical and even absurd take on otherwise ordinary utilitarian objects (chairs, kettles, mugs), and on a personable level, we’ve really loved getting to know him and absorb the inspiration of being in his creative space.

Morning rituals with artist, Peter Shire.

Peter Shire: Okay, the morning routine. We always want to pretend we don't have one, that we're so spontaneous and loose, like Zorba the Greek! But we're all pretty predictable, and aside from the usual ablutions, like taking a shower — I take one in the morning and in the evening.

C: Twice a day?

P: Yeah, twice a day. I got into that habit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because it was so humid. That's another story, right?

In the morning, I come into the studio. I get out of the car, I unlock the door, I go to the espresso machine and get it going. Usually, it takes a couple shots... the first cup is usually kind of nasty. Is that the case with you?

C: Yeah, the machine needs to be warmed up!

P: It needs to be.
C: Espresso machines feel happier when they’re humming.

P: My ongoing “things”—the objects I use daily—I think of them like a leather coat. You leave it in the closet for a year, and it's stiff when you put it on, but when you wear it a couple of times it fits so well. They are things that need to be cured, so to speak, and those are the kinds of things that are always of interest to me.

So, once the espresso machine is warmed up, I like to make coffee for everyone in the studio. It hurts my feelings when they bring a cup from somewhere else! I reckon it is a way for me to keep a connection with everybody… the rim of the wheel isn't anything without the spokes and the hub, and vice versa. The whole thing—the studio, our team—is a unit, and making coffee for everyone is a way for me to bond. It’s something I can do, for them.

C: In the same way that the ritual is giving to people, it’s also as if you’re giving to the machines and things, giving them purpose and life.

P: Yes.
C: Could you tell us a little about your coffee set-up and its story?

P: Years ago, I didn't drink coffee, I was a teetotal—I didn't drink alcohol and I didn't do coffee. I really didn't even drink tea, even though I made thousands of teapots. I used to joke that I put Coca-Cola in them.

That was before I went to Italy. While I’m in Milan (during Memphis) I go out and I have a decaf. I went into one of the coffee bars and said, "Can I have a decaf espresso?" and the girl yells at the barista in this disdainful Italian—I mean, nobody can be angry or disdainful like Italians—and she yells “One without!” in Italian. In other words: “You aren't a coffee drinker, you’re coffee drinker junior.” I started having regular espresso then.

Now, every time I make espresso, I have this feeling, this moment, of nostalgia. The smell brings me back to those days, going into the coffee bar at 6 in the morning before going to the glass factory, the glass furnace, to work.

When I came back to California, we started trying to make our own espresso with a little foam machine.

Of course, it didn’t work. It's just a way of kind of pushing water through the coffee. We’d grind it and pack it, and we’d blow the O-rings out of these things! I was buying O-rings by the dozen from my industrial supplier and burning through them. ●

More from the interview with Peter at Canyon Coffee.

Peter Shire Studio
Morning Ritual Series