Peter Fiore | The Forest & The Trees

Peter Fiore paints the simply profound

By Elizabeth L. Delaney

Peter Fiore, Tangle 9, oil, 50 x 50.

Peter Fiore, Tangle 9, oil, 50 x 50.

This story was featured in the November 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  November 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Peter Fiore’s oeuvre is a work in progress—a visual coalescence of ever-growing knowledge, technique, and aesthetic ideals. Each successive body of work builds upon the last to reflect not only the current moment in his journey but also the accumulation of every one that came before.

“I am interested in making the simple profound, always searching for that universal moment in the world around us,” says the artist. His canvases depict, with thoughtful nuance, the sanctity found in nature, conveyed via rich colors, heady textures, and a dynamic energy that seems to emanate from within. These striking visual combinations capture nature’s brilliance but also “go beyond,” striving to access the essence of the subject matter, to speak to a deeper consciousness within artist and viewer.

“I revel in the questions,” says Fiore, “not the answers.” After decades as a professional artist, he continues to forge his path headlong, eager to discover the next innovation to mine. The physicality of his process—the making of things—remains paramount to his work, as it has from the beginning.

Fiore was born in Teaneck, NJ, into a family that valued the art of true craftsmanship. His grandfather, who emigrated from Italy, was a shoemaker, and both of his grandmothers worked as seamstresses. His father was a barber. Theirs was a legacy of working with one’s hands—of producing something tangible and meaningful—and young Peter was exposed to this tradition throughout his childhood. “I always liked making things,” says Fiore, whose father, a skilled artist in his own right, began teaching him to draw around the age of 5. Several years later, he gave his son a camera as well, which Fiore taught himself to use. “I have a driving force to make things,” he says of his inclination to carry on the family tradition. “Painting takes that craft to a more personal level.”

Also a result of his upbringing, Fiore possesses a strong work ethic and creative tenacity. He credits his family and his time in Catholic school for instilling such an unyielding persistence in all facets of his life. Fiore completed his education at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League of New York, eventually entering the world of commercial illustration. He built a successful career over two decades, working for major publishing houses and across genres. He continued painting throughout his tenure in publishing, however, and in 2002, he gained representation from a gallery and began to show his fine art. Today, Fiore and his wife, Barbara, live along the Delaware River in northeastern Pennsylvania, where he finds inspiration in the vastly wooded landscape.

Fiore generally paints the trees and land close to his home. The area possesses the natural beauty he is drawn to, and his proximity allows him to visit each site on multiple occasions, at various times of day, in all four seasons. “I like to visit a motif over and over again,” he says. “I am especially drawn to the winter landscape. It is a time when the earth loses its leafy covering and reveals its true self. Covered in snow, the world reflects light and creates a spectrum of colors that are both dramatic and beautiful.”

In this manner, Fiore feels he can get to know his subjects on a more intimate level. “Painting is as much looking as it is making,” he says. Energized by the opportunity to share physical space with his subject matter, he goes into the field with sketchpad, camera, and voice recorder. He often spends hours onsite, to experience the evolution of the environment as time passes. “The true subject in any of my paintings is light and how it defines and endlessly changes the landscape around us. For me, light is more than a visual tool; it is an emotional subject. It is light—how it falls, changes, sculpts, colors, and creates various moods on a subject—that intrigues and inspires me.”

Fiore has long been recognized for his broad, painterly landscapes that embody the unadulterated beauty of the woods, water, and open land. As his mindset and artistic perspective have evolved, he has shifted his focus to a long-term, intense study of individual trees. While his passion for nature and interest in light remain, such concerns are now manifested in intricate examinations of lone trees. He often paints the same tree many times, to fully explore its identity and behavior within the space. For him, it’s all about “owning the motif.” Additionally, the work addresses ideas of time and eternity—which are, in his estimation, the result of age and the wisdom it brings. “Experience leads to depth,” he says. “It gives you a sense of how to look deeper.”

Fiore finds both excitement and solace in the forest. He refers to it as a holy place in terms of imparting something universally greater than ourselves. The trees therein carry a wealth of visual and spiritual meaning for him. “Trees are a wonderful symbol for life on this earth,” he says. On a macro level, they represent timelessness, regeneration, and the eternal force of nature; on a micro level, they symbolize the human figure.

His tree “portraits” continue the artist’s pursuit of communicating a complexity of feelings within his paintings, while also seeking to display the unique character of each tree. Most recently, he has embarked on a series of nocturnes, which, as he explains, “speak to the deeper side of things. I’m looking for something more eternal and, for me, more meaningful—not just a beautiful execution.”

The pieces exemplify Fiore’s ongoing visual investigations, as well as his growth as a painter. They feature closely cropped trees or segments of trees, their branches dancing from edge to edge, anchored by a steady central trunk. This bifurcating vertical features prominently in the tree portraits. Such a layout has the potential to divide the composition in a way that depletes it of energy, but Fiore tackles it as a challenge—an invitation to depart from the norm. “You have to learn the rules, but you have to break them,” he remarks. “You have to be willing to break them with intellect. And know when to break them and why you’re breaking them.” As such, each trunk becomes a catalyst for dynamism—a nucleus of power and light.

Fiore now paints almost exclusively in a square format, embracing the absolute symmetry and universality of the shape. He explains that a square represents stability and, as such, has no endemic force. Therefore, as the artist, he is tasked with infusing energy into the piece and then extracting it from within the subject matter. “You have to work hard to make a composition that transcends stability,” he explains. He savors this challenge, which forces him to rely on his own hand to bring movement to an otherwise static shape.

“I try to paint simply,” says Fiore, who achieves engaging imagery with strong foundational lines and shapes. His lush, tactile brushwork retains those elements of simplicity, even as they radiate an essence of spirit. He employs a degree of abstraction as well, obscuring overt detail to focus on light impressions, color play, and interaction among the lines and shapes. He says, “The abstract marks that I make are used to interpret nature’s tangle—making visual sense and constructing order by structuring shape, form, tone, color, and rhythm to create a palpable reality.”

Fiore has spent his career not only illustrating and painting, but also teaching. He currently leads classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has held additional positions at Syracuse University, the University of Delaware, and Pratt over the past four decades. He enjoys sharing his experiences and gifts with his students, but more than that, Fiore loves to watch them transform as they realize their own potential. “To pass something on to somebody, to give them that sparkle, to empower them, is amazing,” he remarks. Conversely, working with student artists helps him focus on the purity of his own work—that which is found in the fundamentals of effective design and composition.

Just as he educates would-be artists, Fiore also practices his own “self-learning,” arming himself with a broad range of knowledge to expand his mind. Physics, math, philosophy, and poetry are a few of his intellectual pursuits, and Fiore believes that they all play an important role in his creative voice. (He is especially drawn to visual poetry, à la Charles Simic, for its austere, graphic quality.) Similarly, he loves music and immerses himself in sound as he paints. His tastes span a range of styles from Beethoven to the Talking Heads, and he has tailored playlists for each stage of his work. He describes this synergy not as music directly informing his artwork but as a vehicle to help him access his own emotions and translate those into the artwork.

“Painting is cultural, it’s thinking, it’s passion, it’s education, it’s intellectual,” says Fiore. “I am trying to create the poetry that goes beyond the surface.”

Travis Gallery, New Hope, PA; RS Hanna Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX.

This story was featured in the November 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  November 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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