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Art Seen: Peter Bugg

Peter Bugg is a photographer, graphic designer, video artist, educator, and collaborative artist. While the tools he uses to make his art are very different, his themes and talent are truly focused. He is fascinated with America’s obsession with tabloids, paparazzi, gossip, magazines, and the industry of the celebrity as a consumer good.

Peter’s work has always surprised me. Every time he exhibits, I have gone in with expectations of what I might see, but always left with unexpected and exciting new viewpoints of our celebrity obsessions. His work, however, is always more than just about celebrities, it forces the viewer to think about how they are a part of the making of a pop icon.

Following is an interview with Peter about his work, and his latest show, Public Eye: New Work by Peter Bugg and DOSE which is currently showing at Willo North Gallery in Phoenix (through April 27).

Could you tell me a little about your new show?
There are 2 main bodies of work in this show. The first is a series of commemorative plates of stars getting out of cars (sans underwear), and the second is the beginning of a larger series of papel picado inspired mashups of cut vinyl and photographic images of dead celebrities. While the work is being shown next to Dose’s (and I think his work compliments mine, and vice versa) the exhibition is not a collaboration.

Only the Good: Michael Jackson from Peter Bugg on Vimeo.

The plate series came from an idea I have had for a couple of years, but am only now completing. The title of the series is Plate du Jour, and is much more graphic than a lot of my previous work. The Papel Picado work is titled “Only the Good” and is a collaboration with Molly Mendoza, who had a fantastic drawing installation in the Eye Lounge Project Room last summer. She was a student of mine and we had talked about collaborating in the past, but finally made it happen for this project. The cut out negative space and celebrity content definitely relates to past projects I have done, but the imagery in the cut outs is much different from my older work, which had more of a graphic design feel to it.

What inspires you?
look at as much art as I can, and whenever I see an idea that I like, I think “how can I incorporate that in to my work?” For past shows, I had made cut magazine page works dealing with celebrities, but mostly involving text, not images. Then last summer, I was down in Tucson for an opening and went to a store that was selling papel picado, and a light bulb went off. I had seen papel picado before, but for some reason, it had never clicked until then. I knew I had to do some sort of mashup between the celebrities and the papel picado. Seeing all the of skulls, skeletons, and day of the dead paraphernalia in that store, dead celebrities were the next logical step.

I began by finding the images of the dead celebrities that I thought were iconic in some way about their lives. After that, I talked with Molly about what kind of other imagery might represent them and sent her rough sketches of ideas. She turned the sketches in to more finished drawings, and then I polished them up, and did the actual printing and cutting. It was a very collaborative process.

Only the Good: Brittany Murphy
48″ x 65″
Hand cut vinyl
Peter Bugg & Molly Mendoza

Your students must change your your perspective on your work. Is that true?
My students don’t let me take anything for granted. I love it when I will show them an artist whose work I really like, and they actively tell me why they don’t like it or think it’s overrated. It forces me to stay on the ball, actively consider why I like an artist’s work, and then figure out a way to articulate it to beginners in a way that makes sense. On the other hand, though, I also appreciate it when I show work to students that they can really get in to right away, and get as excited about as I do. When that happens, and then they go out and do their own research and bring new information back to me, that’s also very exciting.

How did you get started as an artist?
As an artist, I began as a photographer because my father, uncle and grandfather were/are all amateur photographers, so cameras were always around and I wanted to learn more about them. When I came to graduate school (for photography), I ended up branching out because I met people who were studying other media and I wanted to make more 3 dimensional objects, and not just photographic images. Photography is still the medium about which I know the most, but I try not to limit myself when creating. My first photography didn’t happen until my senior year of college, and at that point it was just a hobby. But near the end of that year, my professor told me that if I wanted to, I could probably get in to a good graduate school, and she would be happy to write me a strong letter of recommendation. That put the bug in my ear, and while it took me a long time to really commit to it, it’s definitely been worth it.

Only the Good: Amy Winehouse
46″ x 65″
Hand cut vinyl
Peter Bugg & Molly Mendoza

Are their any other inspirations for your work?
Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Jonathan Lethem audiobooks while I commute around the valley to teach at community colleges, and I watch quite a few movies and HBO television shows on DVD. There is seldom an epiphany, but I always enjoy watching and trying to understand how visual and performing artists’ careers evolve – seeing how one story/series/body of work leads to the next.

What’s next for you?
I was recently selected to be one of the artists in the second round of Scottsdale and Tempe’s (Arizona) In Flux project, so I will have an installation up in the former Border’s Building on the corner of Mill and 7th in Tempe. I also have a group show coming up at Southern Oregon University with former Eye Lounge members Ryan Peter Miller and Marco Rosichelli, so I’m definitely going to stay busy.

More information:

Public Eye will open on First Friday, March 2 at 6 p.m. with an artist reception, and will remain on exhibit through April 27. The exhibition will be open on Saturday and Sunday, March 17 and 18, during Art Detour weekend. Willo North Gallery is located at 2811 North Seventh Avenue in Phoenix. The gallery is otherwise open by appointment only, by calling 602-320-8445.

Photo credit: Peter Bugg portrait is courtesy of David Emitt Adams. All other photos courtesy of Peter Bugg


  1. Lara Plecas (Reply) on Tuesday 13, 2012

    I look forward to catching this show over Detour, nice work!