Through bold geometric shapes and interwoven circles, artist Peter Yuill confidently and assuredly releases a new collection of work created in his quest to find and explain meaning.
We visited Yuill in his Hong Kong studio, as he prepares for his upcoming show. Next to a tall wall of windows flooding in plenty of light, his workspace is covered in the large sheets of paper on which he designs his abstract ink drawings. After four years of self-imposed exile, Yuill is back, anticipating his upcoming solo exhibition with a new body of work that inhabits an emotive look, feel and confidence.
From Rural Canada to Busy City Streets
Originally from Canada, Yuill has made Hong Kong his home for the last eight years. “I love living in Hong Kong, it’s a very liveable city. It’s safe, it’s amazing. It’s vibrant; the color, the lights, the energy, the sound, the smell. The food. The food! Amazing, I love this place. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world really!”
An urban adventurer, another of Yuill’s favorite things about Hong Kong is exploring the streets. “I love the chaos and the energy and whenever I feel distracted or depressed or anxious, or I have creative block I usually will go to Mong Kok, or I’ll go to Tsim Sha Tsui and just walk to Sham Shui Po.”
The busy and hectic streets are a far cry from small town Canada where Yuill grew up. In teenage years of rebellion he enjoyed graffiti, which gave him an appreciation for painting on a large scale. Later, he studied illustration in Toronto, which is where he met his wife Thierry Chow, and the two moved together to Asia. His early work captured the medley of shapes and curious curves of Hong Kong’s old buildings and bustling streets.
“That was very reactive to me coming to Hong Kong and experiencing a new place. I was visually reacting to my environment and experiencing new things, but there was not much more to that than that style of work.”
Leaving your previous style behind, what was the process for you to realize this new idea?
I didn’t feel like I had anything to say anymore, I had said everything through that work that I wanted to so I decided to stop doing it and then that led me down a very long path of ‘I know what I don’t want to do, but I need to figure out what I do want to do… I need to figure out what it is I do want to express and what I’m trying to say.’ That led to a lot of soul searching and inner exploration.
Down the path of exploration, he dabbled with understanding different forms of spirituality, sacred geometry, Runic symbols, mathematics, and the physics phenomenon of resonance and frequencies. This led him to absurdist and existentialist philosophy. Through exploring what that meant to Yuill, he saw that there is an interconnected intangible energy which he channels through his pieces.
You can’t describe it but you know something is there. That, in line with the fact that you can take the golden ratio that connects from even the most tiny aspects of Earth – from the spiral of a sunflower to the ratio of the bones in the human body, all the way up to the ratio of the spiral of the galaxy – it’s the exact same mathematical formula which cannot be coincidental. There has to be something to that.
We as the human race are obsessed with trying to understand the meaning of life. It dominates almost everything we do on a day to day basis so when it comes to religion or spirituality or anything, we’re always obsessed with it. Then we’re confronted with this fundamental absurdity that we’ll also never be able to know the answer. So we have this all-consuming thirst for knowing or trying to understand what is the purpose for all of this ‘why are we all here?’, juxtaposing with the fact that we’ll never be able to answer. That exploded my mind and then that’s where I essentially draw my inspiration from.
Peter and Thierry have three dogs who liked to join in with the interview. Their apartment is a welcoming space, with a medley of artwork, cute collections and plenty of plants.
What do you bring to your interiors to make it feel like home?
Plants. I love plants. Look at this violet denver. It’s exploding! When we brought this here it was tiny and it is just going nuts. I have a relationship with the plants. I feel like they’re almost like friends of mine – I talk to them. I dunno it’s weird, I take care of them and I water them and I fertilize them and I pull off the dead leaves and I kind of make sure they’re okay and I’m always fussing with them and playing around, and kind of like helping them to grow and all that kind of stuff.
Do you ever introduce plants into your artwork?
The point of art for me is to explore something new. It’s to create something new. So the plant is already perfect, when somebody paints natural things I don’t feel like it does the thing justice, or it does art justice. Because you can never paint a plant better than it already is, the plant is perfect in its own right. Art should be there to explore something that doesn’t already exist. You’re trying to understand new things, you’re trying to create. You’re creating something new. You’re creating an experience. You’re creating a thought. You’re creating an idea. I mean other people experience it in different ways – for me I don’t want to create something that already has been created.
When I asked Yuill about the way they display art in their home, he explained that a lot of the space is divided into different energies, as his wife Thierry is a prominent feng shui master.
How do you incorporate feng shui into your home?
Every in aspect of our house feng shui is incorporated because Thierry and her father are such powerful feng shui masters. So skilled and so knowledgeable. I just defer to them. They do everything. Actually I think feng shui is very cool and it was an interesting learning experience.
For Yuill, much of the feng shui philosophies are common sense. For example, it explains the way that a sunny day will have a positive impact on your mood and productivity, or rainy months will bring you down. What feng shui addresses also occurs in questions of astrophysics.
If you think about it, everything in the universe is made of the same essential building blocks; molecules and atoms. We are made of the same parts of this wood table just in different configurations. If the energy in everything that permeates around is real, why not try to harness that the to the best that you can?
The balance of energies is precisely why some areas are better than other spaces. In feng shui the room is divided into nine squares, with good and bad spots for different activities. It’s why the front door might feature a fish tank, or a “death spot” is a better space for storage, and where there is little traffic.
So what’s why you sit here?
That’s why I sit here. Because that area [pointing to an unused corner] is the death spot – that’s why there’s piles of shit there cos we don’t use it. [With feng shui] you’re placing elements around you that are affecting your subconscious without you being aware of it but in a positive light. It’s ways that make you happier or more productive – make you feel better, make you more positive and then that trickles down and affects every other aspect of your life.
“Where I am now is the end of the beginning. I’ve begun to understand what it is I’m meant to do. I’ve begun to realize that I need to make my own meaning,” says Yuill. After his journey of exploration, his large scale drawings convey energy and emotion in the fluidity and permanency of ink, marking the boldness of a new direction in his work.
Peter Yuill’s solo exhibition The Absurdity of Meaning opens on April 20th 2018 in Hong Kong.
Check out more of Peter’s work here.