CREATIVE PEAKS: Painting in the Now

By on May 31, 2016

Mike Piggott hits his mid-career stride.

Works from painter Mike Piggott: ‘Up the Hoback’ (left), ‘Double Orchid’ (right), and ‘Spring Shoes.’  (Photo: Mike Piggott)

Works from painter Mike Piggott: ‘Up the Hoback’ (left), ‘Double Orchid’ (right), and ‘Spring Shoes.’  (Photo: Mike Piggott)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – In a moment of inspiration, Mike Piggott stuck a knife in his painting.

No, we’re not talking vandalism, or self-sabotage. Last week Piggott was working on a new landscape and decided to paint a section of fallow soil in the shape of a knife blade. Subtle yet intentional, the blade may go unnoticed by some viewers. It adds layered meaning to springtime’s promise of renewal, perhaps asking, “What has to be cut away for new growth to emerge?”

“There are hidden things going on in a lot of my work,” the painted explained.

The past year has been a productive one for Piggott. He has made dozens of new paintings in each of his five loose themes: interiors, landscape, still life, trees and a theme he calls “funky.” With a show of prints coming up in July at the Center for the Arts, and a show of paintings later in the year at Tayloe Piggott Gallery, Piggott is hitting his mid-career stride.

“You can tell there’s a new energy behind his work,” Alex Keenan said. Keenan is the director of rrt at Tayloe Piggott Gallery, which represents Piggot’s paintings. “It’s really hard to find good painters,” she continued. “Mike is a tried and true painter.”

Piggott was born and raised in Virginia, where he earned his BA in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University. After college he spent two years in Los Angeles before moving to Jackson. He has been here ever since.

In his 20s and 30s, outdoor pursuits could pull him away from painting. But at 52, he says his number one priority is to be in the studio, or out in the field, making paintings. Living here, Piggot says, “There is a dialogue with myself in nature.”

Piggott met with this columnist at Persephone Bakery, where a few of his still life paintings grace the walls. For the café, his subjects were simple—a cup of coffee, a stick of butter on a plate. Similar to the work of Wayne Thiebaud, Piggott’s objects are rendered in rich colors where the interplay of shadow and light, color and contrast, vibrate on the canvas.

“I’m very visceral,” he said. “I respond to what I see now. I don’t usually make plans for what I’m going to paint.”

One of Piggott’s influences is the early 20th century Italian painter and printmaker Giorgio Morandi, known primarily for his still lifes.

“His paintings are deceptively simple,” Piggott noted. “Until you start studying them. Then all of a sudden you see that there is a conversation going on between the colors, tones and shapes.”

Morandi spent years painting the same objects in his studio, playing with tone and atmosphere. Though Piggott’s still life subject matter often changes—from watermelon slices to an orchid plant to a pair of sneakers—like Morandi, he is obsessed with painting everyday objects.

“Painting is about seeing,” Piggott said. “It’s about the way we see things and think about those things.”

According to Jackson painter and Teton Artlab director Travis Walker, Piggott has achieved a Morandi-like deceptive simplicity in his work.

“The first time I saw Mike’s work in person I was blown away,” Walker said. “It was an image of a skier with an avalanche probe in the midst of looking for a freshly buried victim; created with only a few colors and minimal information. Just enough to convey the drama of the moment. I have always been struck by the beautiful economy of Mike’s work.”

The influence of English artist David Hockney is strongly apparent in Piggott’s landscape and forest paintings. Both artists fill the entire space with color and dynamism. The viewer’s eye roams around the painting as trees and fields transmute into simply colors and shapes, which in turn, rub against other shapes and colors, perhaps competing, perhaps singing together.

“I love Hockney’s inquiry into things,” Piggott said. “He is into perspective and seeing.”

Not only has Hockney influenced Piggott stylistically; Hockney’s life represents freedom to Piggott.

“Hockney had to admit to the world that he is gay,” Piggott said. “That honesty is a treasure. Now he can do anything he wants!”

Piggott says he still wrestles with his comfortable middleclass background. His father is a doctor. His mother took pride in decorating their home with antiques. But the Ozzie and Harriett approach to life is not what Piggott seeks.

“How I grew up is not what I want in my life now, even though I loved it,” Piggott said. “I’m still wrestling with that in a way—all the stuff I grew up with. But someone like Hockney, now it’s like he is free.”

According to Keenan, Piggott’s work possesses exactly the lightheartedness he admires.

“He is a brilliant painter without having to try too hard,” Keenan said. “His paintings are not overworked. He captures the essence of something without it seeming heavy.”

Piggott feels that his work is often a dialogue with the influential painters he admires. He does not attempt to add flashy new ideas to the conversation because he is not driven by ideas. Instead, Piggott’s work is always about how he responds to what he sees.

“It doesn’t get any newer than that,” Piggott said. “If you have too much of an idea about what you’re seeing, you are suppressing all this beauty that is right there, right now.” PJH

Mike Piggott will exhibit prints as part of a two-person show with Wendell Field at the Center for the Arts Theatre Gallery, July 20 through August 22. For more on Piggott’s paintings, contact Tayloe Piggott Gallery, 733-0555. View images of Piggott’s work at mikepiggottstudio.com.


About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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