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Peter France's studio in Washington, New Hampshire

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Peter France : Simply Being

 

By Mitchell Manacek

 

Peter France alleges that the human hand made the human mind—with newly evolved dexterity, our early ancestors learned to manipulate their natural world by building simple tools and structures, leading to history’s societies, their cultures, and the complex brain we developed to make sense of it all. As an infant, Peter used his hands to discover the world around him. He made his first sculpture when he was three years old, a clay cowboy boot that he still keeps today. From then on, Peter remembers an endless urge to sculpt, build, and create. It was in this way that Peter, as a curious child with freedom to explore, began to understand three-dimensional space. Today, those same hands shape bronze and steel in two decidedly different styles, interpreting our shared three-dimensional world and what it means to simply exist here.

Upon completing his studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, which included a year abroad in Italy, Peter returned to Pietrasanta to spend the next ten years refining his hand as a sculptor. While working alongside the masters of traditional bronze casting at Fonderia Artistica Mariani, Peter immersed himself in old-world Italy, sipping in its culture and history, and finding his eye for beauty in the process. In Pietrasanta, Peter learned how to recognize art that had grace, vitality, and an inarticulable energy—or a palpable “buzz,” as he would call it. When he sculpts, Peter’s goal is rather humble: to add more of that “buzz” to the world, and to deepen its consciousness by doing so.

In his pursuit for such élan, it seems appropriate that Peter, as he has done, would turn to the natural world for his subjects. “Things in nature have balance, beauty, grace, strength,” Peter says, for “nature is a cruel organism; things have to be right or they don’t survive.” Viewing Peter’s bronzes, one profoundly feels the many expressions of being in nature: the power of a bison, the wisdom of an owl, or the poise of a giant redwood. Peter accomplishes this effect by staying closely involved with every step of the technical process, whereas many contemporary sculptors do not “chase” or assemble their own castings, leaving those final crucial steps to be completed at the foundry. Chasing is the process of shaping the surface of metal with small hand tools, which imparts a discernable thumbprint of the artist. Likewise, Peter uses his sensitive eye to determine the stance and gesture of a given figure during its assembly, giving the final bronze a weightlessness that brings it to life.

If Peter’s bronzes are studies into nature’s varied expressions of being, then his steel wire sculptures are “spatial thoughts” in which curvilinear three-dimensional lines are drawn subtly, and with just enough awareness to suggest a form. These lines manipulate space with very little yet have powerful effects on the experience of the rooms they inhabit. Peter likens his wire sculptures to Japanese sumi paintings, where an artist commits to quick and simple lines in rapid exclamations. With a keen directness, these “three-dimensional drawings” seem to reach for the core of things, distilling particular subjects down to their essence.

 

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Peter France now lives and works in his hometown of Washington, New Hampshire, where he is nurtured by the quietude and clean air of the forests and pastures beneath Lovell Mountain. There, he reflects upon his education in Pietrasanta from the private studio that he designed himself, using his natural surroundings as inspiration.