Top image: Dragon Scale Commode (2017) by Peter Marino. Image courtesy of the Gagosian.
Originally trained in fine art, Peter Marino is now principal of Peter Marino Architect, an architecture and design firm renowned for their spectacular designs, from New York’s towering Four Seasons Hotel, to conceptual retail spaces for the likes of Chanel and Dior.
Marino’s new show, Fire and Water, at London’s Gagosian gallery has brought him back to his fine art roots. His third collection in a series of sculpted bronze boxes, this latest series features boxes crafted with exquisite designs inspired by organic and mythical forms such as water ripples, dragon scales and rough stone, some of which were created by Marino’s own thumb print. The boxes, which are functional storage items, were handmade at the Atelier St. Jacques, part of the Foundation de Coubertin, the French national institution for crafts, manual work, and trades.
Here, Marino reveals how through this series, which took him three years to complete, he has succeeded in every man’s desire of immortality. The boxes, which weigh tons and are virtually indestructible, are a means by which he is able to leave his imprint on the world, as they will last for decades. The series also reveals Marino’s obsession with bronze and the traditions of bronze metal work. One of the first and strongest documented materials in human history, the use of bronze appears throughout art-historical traditions; a material that outlasts entire civilisations, Marino pays homage to the metal, combining both the architectural and the ornamental to create boxes which are simultaneously timeless and rebellious.
Thalia Chin: When you were first toying with the idea of creating these boxes was it form or function that you wanted to primarily concentrate on?
Peter Marino: I don’t care about form or function; I was just playing around with different textures in bronze. It’s all about texture and the feel of bronze, as bronze is a very sensual material. There are not many materials – maybe you can think of some but I can’t – that the more you touch them, the shinier and better they get. The oil of your hand improves the patina; I mean you can’t say that about a lot of things, certainly not plastic, certainly not glass, certainly not wood.
“…I started making samples in the foundry until I got something that made me say, ‘OK, that could be Puff the Magic Dragon’s skin.'”
Thalia: Can you tell me more about your want to work specifically with bronze for this series?
Peter: There are a couple of reasons, for one it lasts. What is really cool is that my bronze boxes are going to last longer than you or I will. Every guy wants a little bit of immortality and these, well unless there is an atom bomb, are just about indestructible. They weigh thousands of kilos to begin with and there is a long lastingness that really attracts me. Maybe it’s my age, I started these in my fifties, but how many people can say they’ve made something that’s going to last a thousand years. Even paintings and bits of wood; wood shrinks and paintings fade, these bronze boxes are going to last a very long time. This also puts a lot of pressure on my shoulders though, they better be good as they are going to last forever. Imagine if I had made something really appalling, think about that! Its not Louis XIV‘s time where we are going to have to melt them down to make cannons, with new age technology bronze is not used to make armour anymore so no one is going to melt them down. They are going to be there forever and that is appealing as an idea to me. I don’t know if it’s just me.
Thalia: It is as if you are leaving an imprint on the world
Peter: Yes! And I am leaving a literal imprint as the big gold boxes have my literal thumbprint on them. I used my thumbprint from the top to the bottom of the box to create the water texture. So yes, imprint that is a good word. He is leaving his imprint, that’s how you should run the story.
Thalia: And these dragon scales, how were they created?
Peter: I took a blow-up of the dragon scales on my tattoo, I’m obsessed with dragons, dragon scales, breathing fire, so I started making samples in the foundry until I got something that made me say, ‘OK that could be Puff the Magic Dragon’s skin.’
“Every guy wants a little bit of immortality and these, well unless there is an atom bomb, are just about indestructible.”
Thalia: The texture is amazing, the references to dragons and armour really do come to the fore.
Peter: Yes I am obsessed with dragons and armour as you can see from what I wear. I also consider the boxes pieces of architecture, when we were at the foundry I had the boxes all lined up in a way that looked like a city. I kept playing around with them and my studio was like, “What are you doing?” They are very architectural pieces; they all start with a base and go up from there. They are made to be looked at front on. I’m really proud of the engineering because it takes weeks to get it right; this foundry is phenomenal, have you ever been to a foundry?
Thalia: No I haven’t.
Peter: You have to go, it’s incredible. Whenever I go I feel like I am going back to the dawn of civilisation, nothing has changed in the process since the Bronze Age. They way they melt the different metals at thousands of degrees, this bubbling malted lava, its bright red and pours thick like lava. They figured this out in 1000 BC Greece, those are clever guys! And the people in the foundry look like me, they have long leather aprons not to get their skin burnt by all the sparks. They pour the bronze in and it takes three to four days to cool and then they’ll pull the mould apart and start tracing it and polishing it, which gives you one panel. One of my boxes has twelve panels so that is twelve weeks and then you have the assembly. An average box takes four to six months to make and that is fast. Only an insane person like myself would do this and this is our third collection. This collection has taken me the last three years.
Thalia: Earlier you said that you see the boxes as pieces of architecture, do you think there is a natural link between architecture and sculpture?
Peter: I started out as a sculptor and then moved into architecture so in my personal case it is a yes. I don’t know about other people and other people’s careers but for me it was a direct transfer, which you can certainly see in my work. I can’t call myself a full architect because, to be honest, I only started pursuing it because I needed a job. I was broke in college and was racking up the bills so I took up architecture so that I could get a job when I left college. I just thought I am staving now and I don’t want to starve for the rest of my life. Being able to go back to being a sculptor is a big thing to me, it finishes a circle and I feel so complete which is really important on a personal level, back to being a sculptor after being an architect for 38 years.
Thalia: When you were first designing them did you have a specific setting that you pictured them in?
Peter: No, and I love to see where people put them. One collector put a pair of gold ones in a room full of 18th century French furniture and it is heaven. I would never have imagined that in a million years. I love seeing how they are used, they are with collectors in Milan, Monaco, Paris, London, New York, Palm Beach and California. They are all over the world and that’s kind of cool.
Thalia: You could almost set up a world tour of them.
Peter: Absolutely. A lot of people don’t want you in their private homes but I always ask to go in and take pictures for the archives. I do want to make a book of them one day, maybe at the end of the 4th or 5th collection, just to record them. We have documented photos obviously for press but I want to document how people use them because it is just so intriguing. In my own house I have them amongst renaissance bronze work and the marriage is just really cool.
Peter Marino: Fire and Water runs at London Gagosian, 17 – 19 Davies street, W1K 3DE, until 11th August.