Peter Ferrari- Artist Q&A
Peter Ferrari is a well known visual artist and art curator in Atlanta. First coming onto the public art scene in 2010, Peter quickly rose to the top of Atlanta’s most in-demand creators with requests pouring in from collaborators and clients alike. This year Peter has not one, but two nominations from Atlanta Creative Loafing's "Best of 2018" awards in catagories for best gallery and best art event.
Forward Warrior established by Ferrari in 2011 is an annual Summer arts event in Atlanta. The event is a partnership between Cabbagetown Initiative 501c3 and Peter in which the artist organizes an annual mural painting among the many talented artists in the city. As the event has grown throughout the years, Forward Warrior draws in art lovers and tourists to observe and enjoy the works of art taking shape along a half mile stretch of Wylie Street.
In early 2017 Ferrari and co-owner Photographer, Elliot Liss opened the doors to Facet Gallery in Old Fourth Ward. The multifunctional space has hosted numerous events including art shows, community dinners, and photo shoots to name a few. Most notably Ferrari and Liss have created a space in which up and coming and established Atlanta artists have an opportunity to exhibit their work to a growing base of art collectors.
Peter sat down with Rigby Ink inside of Facet Gallery to share with us his journey from flirting with art as a side project to full time working artist and Atlanta community staple.
RIGBY INK- You graduated with a degree in sociology and a masters in education and then taught for six years. Tell me about the time leading up to college and how you first developed your creative talents?
PETER FERRARI- Growing up I was always involved in making art and when I turned 18 I began dabbling in graffiti. It was at that time that my mom gifted me with canvases to channel my creativity into methods which involved less risk taking. Once I took to painting on a canvas, I began to develop my style by incorporating the designs I made while making street art into paintings.
During college and in my teaching career I continued to pursue artistic interests on the side with whatever free time I had. I truly loved teaching, particularly in a Montessori school. I studied sociology at Emory and graduated having idealistic goals that I could help grow young people and create a better future. Those feelings came from a place of pain and anguish about the state of the world. Early on I was inspired by Montessori’s philosophy on education and it was a philosophy that I too shared. Having the privilege to teach responsibilities, conscientiousness, and peacemaking skills to young children was very rewarding to me.
In those years teaching, I was working upwards of fifty hours a week which made creating art quite challenging. However, I felt that at the time teaching gratified my desire to put good into the world. My actions were positively shaping the community I lived in.
RIGBY INK- What gave you the push to leave teaching and make art full time?
PF- In 2010 I had the opportunity to paint a large mural. Earlier in the same year, I also had a successful first-time solo show. Soon after that, I was contacted by Living Walls and they said that they loved my style and asked where I had come from. It seemed out of nowhere people wanted to know who I was. After that point I began getting more attention and more requests to paint murals. It was a really fun time in my life.
Prior to murals, I was involved in the art communitythrough attending shows, but I was more of a spectator. Once I stepped into the public art space as a creator I became a part of the art scene and I was meeting amazing people. It was then that I seriously considered turning painting into a full-time job. I made a plan to save money for a few months, quit my job, and dedicate at least forty hours a week to making art full time. In all honesty, I thought I could only make it a year working solely on making art and its wound up being seven years now.
RIGBY INK- You’ve participated in public art whether through commissioned pieces or organizations such as the Living Walls Project from the start of your career. What attracts you to the public art space?
PF- First I just really enjoy it. Seeing my work at that large of a scale and to paint in that way is just a lot of fun albeit hard work. That is what hooked me early on. Second I think that there is general good to the community that comes from public art. You can be commissioned for something and be paid for it, yet it continues to give back to other people. It is art that is available to anyone who happens to walk by and not hidden away in your home, a hotel lobby, or a museum. In a way, in can be purely self-serving, still I believe that the most self-serving mural is better than a gray wall.
RIGBY INK- You’re well known for your collaborations with other artists and city organizers in Atlanta. What professional impact have these relationships had on you?
PF- The relationships I build in the community are so valuable to me both personally and professionally. The kind of people that you meet in artistic and activists circles are my favorite kind of people. Those people are passionate, they are creative, and they’re into doing things [not just talking about doing things]. That gives me energy and also inspires me to do more to keep up with some of the people in my life.
When I was first getting my start I said yes to working with anybody. I think over time I’ve been able to discern who are the ones that are serious compared to the ones that are feeding their own ego. Through my own experiences, I’m now knowledgeable in distinguishing people’s intentions and I seek out people that I enjoy working with. I reinforce those connections and relationships all the time through collaborations or shows I curate.
One of the greatest things I’ve learned since embarking on an art profession seven years ago is the opportunity I can provide to other artists. As an art curator, my goal is to open up the doors by including more diverse artists in shows. I look back at the opportunities I was given during my very first murals and I can see how those skyrocketed and changed everything for me. If I can help out somebody who needs to get that exposure and shine some light on them, then that's even better.
RIGBY INK- You founded Forward Warrior in 2011. Why did you feel there was a need for this project in the city?
PF- Prior to developing the idea for Forward Warrior, there were some rifts happening within the art scene. I wanted to do something that could bring everyone together and for people to have a good time. I was also inspired by friends who were musicians. I wanted art in Atlanta to have a performative aspect where people could come out and watch pieces getting created over the course of a few hours. I wanted it to become a spectacle similar to that of music performances. I was seeing people looking at public art, thinking it was cool, and then moving on to the next one. What I felt was lacking was an understanding of the amount of effort and physicality that goes into creating a twenty-foot tall mural. By the way, back then at the start of Forward Warrior the murals weren’t twenty feet tall. They were four by eight sheets of plywood literally painted along fence posts of the Beltline. If anyone is curious, they’re still there. Today the project has grown from fourteen to forty artists in our most recent event. The support from the community alone speaks to the need Forward Warrior and events like it.
RIGBY INK- In early 2017 Facet Gallery opened its doors. The gallery offers space for multidisciplinary artists as well loans itself to support various events for organizations. Was this a conscious decision?
PF- It was absolutely a conscious decision. We wanted the space to be multidisciplinary and multi-use. People use this space for many purposes and that's also how we have driven most of our shows. We have organized shows in photography, aerosol, and figurative to name a few. We select an overall medium or style and then reach out to all of the artists that we know that work that style. That's what the name Facet Gallery means, we are one facet of this multidimensional art scene.
RIGBY INK- Also in 2017 you and fellow artists Fabian Williams and Benito Ferro filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Atlanta as they tried to enforce legislation to heavily regulate murals on Atlanta's private properties. Why was this something you personally had to take on?
PF- The city sent me a facebook message saying, “Hey we’re going to be grandfathering all of these murals and we just need you to sign this form.” It was basically an amnesty form and the city alleged I hadn’t obeyed an ordinance [that had never been enforced]. It was essentially telling artists that the city was going to start enforcing this thirty-year-old art ordinance [that had previously been deemed unconstitutional]. Of course, artists in the city were all perplexed wondering, "amnesty for what?" We questioned, is the city going to have mural death squads driving around painting over murals? It turned out that the city did began to do just that. The murals that were painted over were ones that were slightly controversial. Someone complained to the city that they didn’t approve of a particular mural therefore the city could legally document a reason for painting over it.
Monica Compana from Living Walls first reached out and said let's get together. It was at that time that a lot of artists got involved. Monica was in touch with Jerry Webber, a first amendment lawyer from Atlanta who lives in Cabbagetown. In the past, Jerry had already threatened to sue the city over the unconstitutional ordinance and by this time he was prepared to take them on in court. The lawsuit required a group of us artists to be plaintiffs. It ended being me along with a few others that you have mentioned.
In Atlanta, there is a battle over street art identity and what people are willing to put at stake. This lawsuit definitely separated many of us. I had to make the decision that taking on this battle with the city was something I was willing to do. Naturally, Fabian Williams said yes without any hesitation whatsoever. So I was like okay cool, I just needed to know I wasn’t going to be alone in this fight.
Immediately the judge ruled in our favor and currently, there is no longer an ordinance on the books. Apparently now it's politically very unpopular. I think the enforcement of the ordinance was something that was politically motivated from the start. Once the public saw what was going to actually happen to the artwork of their favorite artists, they began to speak out against it.
RIGBY INK- How is your relationship like with the city now? Specifically with City Council member Joyce Shepard who initiated the implementation of the ordinance?
PF- Honestly, I have never had to interact with the city that much. Back in 2013, I received an artist grant from the Office of Cultural Affairs. I’ve also worked with the Beltline a couple of times. However, these days most of my clients are corporate or private individuals. I think that the city would like to sweep the lawsuit under the rug like nothing ever happened.
RIGBY INK- You were quoted saying, “I believe artists have a special obligation to speak out and take action.” Can you elaborate on this?
PF- As artists, we are in a privileged position to communicate what we want and not face the same kind of consequences as those working in a corporate capitalistic society. I believe that the role of art is to disturb the comfortable and we all have a responsibility to say something about the world that we’re living in. Of course, if you’re super political and you’re really out there, you may not be getting some calls from clients because you could be considered a risk. Despite that reality, I believe that there should be integrity in the work that I do. If I’m not voicing my beliefs in my actual work, then I’m using my platform to say something about injustice and to say something about inequality.
Nowadays it seems as though some artists attempt to take on a sort of rockstar mentality. Some want to party hard, act crazy, or to spend loads of money. To me, that's not the role of what art should be. Artists should have a conscious and artist should have a message. If nobody says shit, and everybody accepts the circumstances of our environment, then the terrible things that are going on behind closed doors will continue to get worse and worse.
A lot of my artwork can be very ornamental. However, I like to think that through curating and through my social media presence that I’m outspoken about issues that I care about. I’m not painting resist on the side of every building, but people know where I stand based on my actions.
RIGBY INK- Considering where you were many years ago when you transitioned to a working full-time artist compared to today- Where do you see yourself in the future?
PF- My goal is to continue to sustain the work that I’m doing now, but I’d also like the ability to travel and buy a house soon. That means making things a little easier on myself and building a team to help run the gallery.
I want to expand Forward Warrior and venture into different neighborhoods where the people there would benefit from public art. Cabbagetown has been a great place to develop this organization because it has provided artists with the freedom to do create what they want without too many restrictions. However, there are places in and outside of Atlanta that could benefit more from Forward Warrior. I want to grow responsibly and incorporate diverse artists into new communities.
Find Peter online and more information about Facet Gallery on:
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/facetgalleryatlanta/
Words Rigby Wrights
Images courtesy of Peter Ferrari
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.