Peter Davies was born in Edinburgh and studied at the University of Brighton and Goldsmith’s College in London.
In an interview with Stephen Hepworth for the British Council Tailsliding exhibition in 2001, Davies described his work:
"My starting point for making is other art, I think it is for everyone, but I am more up front about that. The thing that makes me want to make something is seeing another artwork. I recognise the sense it makes. A lot of the things that have had that effect on me are quite often seen in reproduction. Seeing so much work through reproduction just seems normal. I think our generation has grown up with this, so in a way, we have been able to see a great deal, which may not be a perfect way of experiencing, but is better than nothing. We have this huge amount of information coming at us all the time. The weird thing in thinking about what I want to make now, is that I look at my own things in reproduction too. So I am looking at them in the same way as I look at other art. This is presenting a whole new set of ways of looking and thinking. As I go on, I become more aware of things that excite and influence me. Some things have become more important and others less so, although this changes all the time.
One of the things that interests me in particular is large-scale sculpture when it appears in reproduction. At the moment I am fascinated by a Mark di Suvero sculpture. I’m not going to make a painting or do a drawing directly from it, but I am going to make something about imagining what the experience of the real thing is like. I saw Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses at the Dia Center, and it had a massive effect on me. I actually saw them for real, not as a picture, and it forced me to think about what the link was between the experience of the reproduction and the actual piece. When you look at Multi-Coloured Curved Spaces Painting (2000) you get Richard Serra combined with a colour-field formalist awareness mixed with an interest in decoration played off against a spatial thing. It’s trying to put things together that wouldn’t be obvious to me. In a way it’s like an accident, but in others it’s completely not.
That sense of combining certain art historical and contemporary art things with everyday life or culture also goes on within the text paintings. They take something which is understood, accepted or acknowledged and while adhering to those givens, something from the contemporary world is thrown in to skew it - like the kind of language used for funny comments about the artists that appear. The idea of a top one hundred is a contemporary culture thing. It’s about combining things and associating artists that don’t go together in the way they are placed in the chart or linked in the flow charts. The way that information is put together is exactly the same as I am trying to do in the abstract paintings. I think what frequently happens is I will see something and I will think oh yeah, that’s great and I will make something and then it will dawn on me.
There has always been this thing with me to try and make something look like a painting, that it just can be a painting (without justification) like the lists. This was inspired by conceptualism’s dry text works, which I find quite boring to look at. They were intended to be anti-aesthetic, what it looked like wasn’t important, but it became a look with a certain refined beauty. They were often quite funny, in a dry way. I combine text with formalism, so they look pretty, which is what conceptualism seemed to be against, although I still adhere to rules, so it’s a combination. It’s a challenge to make people go and look at something with writing in it, rather than read it. If you look at one of the list paintings in a very literal way it contains all one hundred of the artists listed. I would like to think that the abstract paintings have got as much information in them, but in a less obvious way.
I am interested in making the paintings in an illusionary way, to get them to occupy more space than they physically do. One way of doing that is to make them as big as possible, but still with a relation to the viewer, rather than architecture. I want the work to be seen but not walked past, to make the viewer feel they are involved in it in a Barnett Newman kind of way. I am always trying to think of basic formal things, which I have seen before in a book, in a painting or on a TV ad, and trying to get this thing, be it a sensation or whatever, into my painting. I was once doing a painting with small squares, which was like pattern, it looked like Op Art, which then led to me looking at space, which later developed into the abstract paintings. It was quite an organic thing. What I like and what keeps me interested is that other references occur to me… like while working on one painting which made me suddenly think of Duchamp’s Large Glass, a work that I had never really looked at before. So Duchamp became interesting in a new way. It’s great that something I found interesting made something else interesting for me.
In some ways I’m a fan, although I’m not a loony fan waiting outside for an autograph. I’m in awe of great works of art. I feel I want to make something as good as these, to not be intimidated but inspired. I have found a way of using the enthusiasm generated by such encounters. I don’t want to be hoodwinked. I need to understand what I am looking at, to understand the language and be able to speak that language. Also finding that funny, entertaining and serious all at the same time. It’s a fan thing combined with connoisseurship. I want to avoid making something that is a homage to, or a witty take on, a re-make or cover version. If there are obvious elements in there, that’s fine but even if my work looked like someone else’s, conceptually, or intellectually for me, it’s in a radically different sense and I understand it more."