Industrial Design Pop with David E. Peterson

David E. Peterson (NAP #112) takes industrial design as his inspiration and turns it into art for your wall. Moved by the bold colors, layout, and rhythms of storeroom floors and wall displays, Peterson set out to mimic and recreate those aesthetic triggers in his wall sculptures.

David Peterson | Office Depot Copy Center Copy Paper | Ultra flat laytex, enamel, mdf, select pine, (32) 8.5" x 11" overall installation 4ft x 7ft, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Bright and bold, his works offer an immediately recognizable visual suggestion and allusion to references we consume daily while driving past storefronts, window shopping on a stroll, and going through the motions of daily urban living. Shying away from commenting on materialism directly, Peterson reflects both our consumer-driven culture and our need to consume art and design, even while shopping. – Ellen Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Ellen Caldwell: First, I loved your works featured in NAP last year. Could you tell me a little bit about your inspiration for these works? Are they a cohesive series?

David Peterson: Yes, the work that was featured in a NAP #112 is part of a cohesive series titled "By Manufacturer." This series is based on deconstructing products within industrial design.  I love looking at product design and deciding what I think the best part of the design is, and then reconstructing those elements into a new composition.  

David Peterson | Asics Oniksuka Tiger Spring Collection 2010, Acrylic, mdf and uv resin, (82) 11" x 5" x 3"  overall, installation 3ft x 28ft, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

EC: Related to that, could you please tell me a little about the materials you are using and your process? I loved reading about your Photoshop mockup as your blueprints and want to hear more about the physical process of building these works.

DP: The materials that are used are MDF [medium-density fibreboard], pine, poplar, laytex, enamel, spray paint, acrylic, oil, wax, stains, polyacrylic, krylon clearcote, and EX-74 UV resin. I am always searching out the right color and finish.

Photoshop is my sketchbook. I found that I can draw in Photoshop more precisely and quickly then by pencil to paper. Also, the Photoshop sketch can be easily tweaked, color, size, shape, etc. If I am getting ready for an exhibition, I can draw out the physical space to scale and then insert the proposed pieces into the space with shadows and lighting so that I have an idea of how the show will look. It is a great visual communication tool, to be able to show this mock to a gallery owner, curator or client.

David Peterson | Jcrew Holiday Catalog 2011, Acrylic, mdf and uv resin, (110) 8" x 10" overall installation 8ft x 15ft, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

EC: That’s great to use it for planning on multiple levels. Let’s talk about materialism too. These are physical, three-dimensional works you are making as inspired by showroom or store displays, right? Are you commenting on commercial culture at all with your work or is it purely design-inspired?

DP: Yes, these are three-dimensional works. People try to push me to talk about materialism within the work; I try to hide within a simple visual game about product design. Maybe, I need to think more about the commercial cultural side of the work?  I have heard the term "Pop Minimalism," which is great term for what I am doing. I think that what I am pulling from in culture and design really tells the viewer a lot about me personally. It is almost like a marketing team came in and figured out what I want to buy next. The “By Manufacturer” series tells everyone where I like to shop, how much money I make, or seem to make, and what my patterns and trends are. “By Manufacturer” could become a very in-depth conversation about race, class, capitalism, materialism and being from the USA.   

On another note, storeroom displays are incredible because of the organization, standard dimensions of space, such as the size of men’s shirts and how far apart they are displayed along with the rhythm of color and patterns within the shirts. Uniqlo is a great example of this display. Their showroom, such as the one in Soho NYC, is overwhelming with spectrums of color that are stacked two-three stories high. It is fantastic! I am not ready to deconstruct that space yet!    

David Peterson | JCrew Womens Tops and Bottoms, Acrylic, laytex and uv resin, (24) 8" x 10 to 12" x 16" overall, installation 8ft x 16ft, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

EC: I loved J. Crew Women’s Tops and Bottoms because it is so distinctly them — color-block, striping, prettiness, and all. Are there certain brands or stores that have called out to you specifically?

DP: I was on a J. Crew kick for three years. (I say that I am not anymore, but just mentioning it, makes me want to go to their website.) I collected their catalogs, and scanned their website almost everyday. I was really into Paul Smith for a while, Hugo Boss and Asics shoes. Right now I have been looking at the Vans website for a large installation. Other companies that I am intrigued by are Moooi Furniture and Lighting, Poliform Kitchens, and Happy Socks.  

David Peterson | Thomas Pink Dress Shirts, Ultra flat laytex, pine and cedar, (40) 11" x 3.5" x 3" overall installation 3ft x 6ft, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

EC: Ha, that’s great about J. Crew that it’s like a craving for you. What kinds of projects are you currently working on and does it differ much from these works? 

DP: Currently, I am working on two series. The first one is called “Leaners” and these are long skinny pieces of exotic wood that have geometric patterns or color fields with wood exposed. These are based on my love for wood grain and color. There is something about a piece of wood leaning against a wall that makes me smile. The second series in called “Duality.” These are larger diptychs on canvas. These pieces are my internal battle between product design and nature. “Leaners” are designed, built, painted in the same way as the “By Manufacturer” series and “Duality” is visiting the romantic vision of a painter with stretchers, canvas, and paint.  

EC: How did you get your start? Were you a painter, photographer, builders first and how did you transition to this work?

DP: I did not start out as a painter, builder, or a photographer. Coming from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, I was trained with the skills to do all of these things. It has always been very important to me to have a toolbox of skills so that I can come up with creative solutions for artworks. I have participated in sound sculpture, music, performance art, short film, sculpture, painting, furniture, and installation art. All of these activities help me become a stronger artist. I transitioned into the “By Manufacturer” work in 2008. The blend of sculpture and painting makes me excited!  


David E. Peterson was born in Grand Rapids, MI in 1979.  He holds a BFA from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI.  David lives and works in Atlanta, GA.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and editor.


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