Editor’s note: Airstream will host a fine art invitational exhibit of landscape art, May 31-June 5. This is one a series of stories that will profile the artists whose work will be shown.
SIDNEY — Landscape artist Peter Fiore, of Matamoras, Pennsylvania, recounts a story he’s heard about best-selling author E.L. Doctorow.
Doctorow was sitting in his house with no idea for his next book. He looked at a blank wall and saw a crack in it. As he investigated the crack, he chipped off some paint and found 20 or 30 layers of paint underneath. He began to wonder about how many people had painted the walls, what their lives were like, what had gone on in that house all those years ago. And that was the genesis of “Ragtime.”
“Inspiration comes from things that mean nothing to most people,” Fiore said. “It becomes profound because the artist is filtering it through himself. Art is important not because of how it’s painted, but because of what it’s about. The ‘how’ will come because of you have a need to make the ‘why.’ The art is about the poetry and the inner struggle you have to make.”
Fiore loves trees as subjects. He sees them as symbols of people and as evidence of the eternity of planet Earth.
“The planet was here long before we were and will be here long after we’re here. The climate and the universe is much bigger than us,” he said. One of the earliest works he did was of an African tree, because life began in Africa. He included the moon because the earliest people’s recorded time by the moon. He would come to revisit the tree theme years later.
Following a car accident in 2008 that left him with a broken back, broken shoulder and broken ribs, the painter couldn’t paint.
“I started going to the national park. I would walk among the pine trees. There was a tree that had a personality,” he said. He visited the tree many times.
“Then, I went one day and it was charred,” he said. Forest rangers had burned that part of the woods to encourage new growth.
“Then, it started to grown really strong,” Fiore said. He didn’t know when he painted that first tree that the subject would become a series.
“You have no idea what emotional level it’s going to hit. So you do one and then another and you find something else. One became 37,” he said. Because he had painted trees as the beginning of life, he wanted to record the other side, too. He searched for a tree at the end of its life.
It took me months to find it,” he said. That painting, “Exstinguished,” shows a dead tree trunk covered with lichens.
“It’s at the end of the cycle of life, but somehow it goes on and supports others. It’s like people. We raise our kids and they go on,” Fiore said.
Fiore and his wife raised two children, Lisa and Paul, who both grew up to become artists. Paul said having a full-time painter for a dad was “great.”
“When I was little, I never really knew what my dad did,” Paul said. “I grew up in a suburb, where everybody else’s dads went to work everyday. Both my parents were in the arts. We would go to museums. It helped me pave a way for what I’m doing now.”
Paul’s paintings are abstract. While his dad’s are more representational, they’re not photo-realism.
“I generally challenge myself by doing things (in the artworks) that are unorthodox,” Fiore said. “I break rules: Never put something in the middle. I put something in the middle and then work around it. Sometimes I use a color and I use a complimentary color just to make it difficult. I’ve learned to trust that the thing that mattered in me will resonate with other people.”
He also learns from his students. Fiore teaches painting in the illustration department of the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
“It lets me see who’s going to be populating the country,” he said. “The lessons I had in school are resonating now. I can still hear my instructors talking. It’s a good thing. As you teach, you learn more. I teach the fundamentals. It keeps me grounded.”
Paul learned from his dad, too.
“He’s influenced my ideas of where we (artists) come from, in terms of how the work gets off the ground. My dad helps in how to shape your world view, how to shape my life around what I want to do,” Paul said. “And, I learned what paint is, how you can move it and how you can change it.”
Fiore’s impressionist technique calls on the viewer to understand the painting’s implied narrative.
“I don’t make paintings of what I see. I start with what I see, but I manipulate the color, the light. I want people to see what I feel,” Fiore said. Something he doesn’t feel as he works is the pain he still suffers from the car accident.
“My studio is my escape,” he said. “When I’m painting that pain goes away. At the end of the day, I know I have a back, a knee, a shoulder. But it’s a great trade-off.”
Fiore came to painting through photography, which he began as a child. He continues to take pictures for his own pleasure.
“It’s something that’s mine. I don’t do it for money. I do it for me,” he said. Whereas his paintings are landscapes, his photographs are people pictures.
“All my photography is about people,” he admitted.
The artwork he would most like to own, however, is neither landscape nor portrait. It’s abstract. When asked what one piece he would select for his, he names not the painting but the painter: Mark Rothko. Fiore appreciates the sense of inner light and inner space in the mid-20th-century artist’s works.
“The light of the painting isn’t light that falls on it, but light that’s inside it,” Fiore said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.