Conversation / Mick Peter

Stargazers scarf in production at Begg & Co. Photograph: Alan Dimmick

In conversation with Mick Peter

In 2018 Panel partnered with Edinburgh’s Collective Gallery and its new retail space, Collective Matter, to commission the Souvenirs of Calton Hill – a collection of products made in close collaboration with producers, fabricators and developers across the UK and Europe. Inspired by and for Collective, the souvenirs explore the history and context of the organisation’s new venue on Calton Hill, and its position as a new kind of city observatory for Edinburgh. Mick Peter’s ‘Stargazers’ scarf, produced with Alex Begg & Co, draws on a group of cartoon newspaper clippings which were collected by people who worked at the Calton Hill Observatory over the years. The ‘Stargazers’ design recalls newspaper cartoons of the early to mid-20th century in its use of black, white and grey and its three-panel strip composition; its subject intends to make us think about the changing roles for women in science and astronomy.

Firstly, what is your own relationship to souvenirs? Was there anything wrapped up in the connotations of souvenirs that you wanted to lean into or avoid completely in response to the brief?

As much as cheapo plastic tat is strangely compelling (and connects to the weird things you collect as a kid, like smelly erasers and leather bookmarks) the brief for this project was always to take the term less literally, or maybe if you’re French, more literally?!

What narrative did you want to build between your product and Collective Gallery?

Something where the connection to Collective was easy to make, whilst building in some more subtle reference points to the building on Calton Hill, which might prompt a few talking points when wearing the scarf.

How did you come to encounter the City Observatory newspaper cartoons and what particularly stood out to you about them?

I have a good relationship with everyone at Collective and we’d made a show in the Edinburgh Art Festival some years before which had some references to editorial cartoons, so they knew right away I’d be interested in them. The cartoons had been collected by people working at the observatory and stuck on the inside of a cupboard door. The cartoons did what cartoons do most of the time in that the shorthand for astronomer is a man in a lab coat, wearing specs and a beard, with a telescope. Any drawings of women depicted them as ‘human computers’– during the early to mid-20th century, when the cartoons were published, this was the main job available to women working in the field of astronomy. My final image took away the men and replaced them with women, as a tribute both to such pioneering Scottish astronomers as Mary Somerville, Williamina Fleming, Margaret Burbidge to name but a few, and to the notable women behind the story of Collective – and Panel of course!

What interests you about the strip cartoon and why did you choose this format within the scarf design?

The image mimics the halftone pattern of newspaper print. In textiles (as far as my limited knowledge extends) you’re working with a grid that’s a bit like 8-bit computer graphics, so the two ideas seem to work well together. The back of the scarf has the image with tonal values reversed which is a quirk of the process, a happy accident that adds to the print references.

Can you say a little about working collaboratively with Alex Begg & Company, who fabricated the scarf, and what you learned from them?

It was fascinating. I learned a lot about what you can do or find ways to do in textiles. The team at Begg were amazing, sending me big plot prints to get a sense of what needed to be adjusted in the image as well as samples of thread colours.

In terms of the collaboration, you’re working with experts, bringing impractical suggestions for picture-making based on what you already know or are interested in. It was great working directly with in-house designer Stacey Keen to problem solve how to translate my drawings into weave, discovering new and unexpected ways to realise the final scarf design in the process. Visiting the factory was a lot of fun too. I went along with Glasgow photographer and fellow commissioned artist, Alan Dimmick, who documented the scarf in production.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m getting towards the pointed end of a project with Les Bains Douches and the city of Alençon, called Six Scenes. Apart from the red tape moving artwork it’s been a joy to work on so far. We previously collaborated on a book and another small project during the pandemic, so it’s been lovely to build this relationship towards a bigger presentation of my work. The exhibition I’m making is quite an epic scale but it’s almost ready to go. There’s also an accompanying text by writer, filmmaker and musician Dan Fox which I’m really excited about.

Six Scenes is at the Halle au Blé in Alençon from the 6th of October.

Mick Peter’s playful installations incorporate imagery influenced by illustration and commercial art. His sculptures are often enlarged drawings, used to animate the narrative of his exhibitions which satirise the symbols of power and authority as well as art making itself. He lives in Glasgow, UK.

Solo shows include; Holburne Museum, Bath, Old Ghosts (2022), Hospitalfield, Arbroath, Gerroff! (or User Feedback) (2021), BALTIC, Gateshead, To Me, To You (2019), Glasgow International Director’s Programme, The Regenerators (2018), Drawing Room, London, Pyramid Selling (2016).

Group shows include; Edinburgh Printmakers, Workshop: Selected Prints from the EP Archive (2022), Musée Villa Montebello, Trouville-sur-Mer, Juste au-dessus des Roches Noires, curated by Virginie Barré (2022) and ‘Voyage au long cours’ at FRACNormandie Caen (2018), Natural Selection’ at Galerie 5, Angers (2016), France, ‘Corps narratifs’ at the Domaine départemental de Chamarande, Chamarande, France (2016). Puddle, pothole, portal at Sculpture Center, New York (2014), L’Echo at HAB Galerie - FRAC des Pays de la Loire, (2014), Monument at FRAC Basse-Normandie, (2014), British British Polish Polish: Art from Europe’s Edges in the Long ‘90s and Today at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, (2013). In 2010/11 He was included in the British Art Show 7.

He has recently published a new book of drawings with Les Bains Douches, Alençon (2020) and is featured in Phaidon’s Vitamin D: Today’s Best in Contemporary Drawing (2021).

He is represented by Galerie Crèvecoeur, Paris.

Browse the Souvenirs of Calton Hill range here.