Madeleine Peck possesses a rare combination of ever-evolving creative ideas, artistic skill, erudition, and the ability to articulate her thoughts in a way that is decidedly inclusive. She never speaks in “art statement”-ese, but rather draws you into her ideas and plans, making you a member of her tribe.
Peck works primarily in 2-D, and much of her works are inhabited by horses and similar four-legged animals, rendered in graphite lines, gouache, and acrylics. While Peck uses creatures as a recurring motif, she is no naturalist. Her beasts float along planes featuring lightly painted or blank, raw negative space, transforming the wildlife into archetypes, flashpoints to jog our consciousness toward the deeper environments of her work.
Peck admittedly deals in myths, fables born from beliefs and misconceptions, celebrating both our assets and shortcomings. Her upcoming show at rain dogs., Picturesque Ruins (A Few Drawings), features seven new works that acknowledge, and expand upon, these aforementioned visuals and concepts.
Peck’s works have appeared in 20-plus group and solo shows and her pieces have found a permanent home in private, academic, and hospital collections. In addition to being a notable visual artist, Peck is also an accomplished arts writer, whose musings have been published in media outlets including Folio Weekly, Arbus, and her blog, makemorebasse.wordpress.com.
In 1998, Peck earned her BFA in studio art from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. This September, Peck will graduate from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) with an MFA in painting.
Last week, I visited Peck at the studio she shares with Mary St. Germain, in CoRK Arts District East. While our conversation lasted a little over an hour, once we got rolling, I could have easily spent hours talking with this always-engaging artist.
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Folio Weekly: It seems like you create a lot and have a fairly large body of work. How do you tackle making all of this art?
Madeleine Peck: Typically, I think the way that I work is, I’ll get ahold of an idea and I’ll just work it to death and be as obsessive as I want to be. And I tend to work in drawing because it relates to writing, and the action of writing. That makes sense to me, in the way that you revise the written word is also how, through 12 iterations of the same idea, I kind of get to the nut of what I’m thinking about. And when I’m looking at them I’ll think, “Oh, they’re elegant and I think they’re smart and they’ve accomplished what I wanted them to do.” I want to move into a more brutal and uncomfortable arena with them, but first I had to go through this process to realize what I wanted them to do.
What attracts you to going into this place of being uncomfortable?
I think for me, as I become more and more articulate about how I want to talk about my work, I want to talk about compassion. And not just compassion toward one another and a way of being and living, but also compassion toward animals and just the way we surround ourselves. I read this really great book called Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence [Marc Bekoff] and he talks about how compassion even exists in the animal world and how it’s really a pathway to a better state of mind and to also create a more compassionate, kinder world.
So, yeah, you have a noble intent.
Yeah, I don’t mean for the pieces to just be these aesthetically pleasing images, although that is very important to me as part of my “making” practice. But there’s a bigger idea behind them than just being lovely things to hang on the wall.
I really want to ask about your drawing and your use of illustration. I mean, you use mixed media, but it’s really adept illustration. Some of the lines are tight and draftsman-like, others are these flowing, wisping lines, like your piece Outmoded Yet Valuable (After the Hart Bridge) 2013. And I don’t think you’re derivative of her, but I love Kiki Smith and she’s also really devoted to drawing. To me, it seems like the terra firma of your work is illustration.
I think you’re right.
You mentioned the idea of written language through lines. But you could’ve taken that idea, of language and line, and used another media. So why do you think you’re so devoted to illustration?
I think there’s an aspect where it takes a lot of time, so it lets me think deeply about these things. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the artist Berlinde De Bruyckere. And I just saw this a few days ago — she has a new series, where she actually utilizes the corpses of horses [turns laptop monitor toward me, so I can see the images of equine corpses fixed vertically on block-like stands].
Oh yeah. [Laughs.] But what she did was she selected the animals that she wanted to use and waited until they died a natural death, so they weren’t slaughtered for pieces. And I think that’s really powerful commentary. Even looking at her wider body of work, it’s visceral and disturbing. I like that idea because it’s beauty contained in an unappealing package. And my package, the package that I’ve created, is typically so appealing so I now want to see what happens when I start to make those deliberate choices. Because I know that I’ll still aestheticize and stylize them. But I don’t think I’ll be able to be as brutal as she is. I don’t think that’s within me.
I want to talk about something I’ve seen in a lot of the work that you do. You use animals but you use a lot of strong, powerful four-legged animals like horses. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any of your work that features smaller, more vulnerable creatures.
I think I tend to draw animals that are both powerful and vulnerable and I tend to think about animals and what relationships we have with them. Say something in the terms of deer; we use them as prey but also symbols. And horses and dogs are the same way, not in the way of prey but animals that can be domesticated or even semi-domesticated.
Do you mean in the sense where people have had horses for dressage and horses for war? And dogs are trained to kill and are also lapdogs?
Exactly. So you have the spectrum of human behavior reflected in the conditions of
So again, that’s born of compassion.
Yeah. And I think that we as a group of people living on the planet need to be more respectful of our resources and more responsible. One of the ways I talk about that in my own work is through animals, because of the abject conditions some animals are forced to endure. And I think it’s a more common language for people. They have great compassion for an animal form than they might have for a human form.