West Michigan artist Michael Peoples’ iconic, candy-colored art pieces that take on the form of everyday objects are hard to miss. Perhaps you remember the ducks that scaled the walls of the UICA above the upper-level staircase or the gnomes that marched in a line at the Kendall College of Art and Design a couple ArtPrize’s ago. Or maybe, you’d recognize the bunches of baby dolls hanging from the ceiling and stacks of Halloween decorations at the 337 Project Space.
The Muskegon Museum of Art is bringing some of Peoples’ most well-known projects to life in its summer exhibition, “Perchance to Dream: The Art of Michael Peoples,” opening on Thursday, June 21.
The exhibition features Peoples’ iconic honey bear bottles and thousands and thousands of circus peanuts, an endeavor that’s taken him roughly four years.
“In this exhibition, there will be over 100,000 peanuts,” Peoples said. “The one that was at the UICA last fall was about half the size. So, this will be twice as big.”
The objects Peoples chooses often pull from kitsch and pop culture, taking on forms that audiences can easily recognize.
“The peanuts are from an old candy mold,” he said. “It’s like a large mold that I can pour a hundred at a time in. The ducks and the gnomes were actually taken . . . I developed a process where I take the object––like for the gnomes that I did, I took what was a lamp made out of plastic and I cut that in half and then I had just basically taped it shut and then poured directly into that object.”
He added, “I really like that process because it kind of takes out the whole mold-making process, and it’s a little more true to what I’m doing. It’s more of an Arte Povera-type thing where I’m focusing on using materials that are outside of what you would ordinarily consider art materials.”
Peoples collects molds on his travels throughout West Michigan’s many antique and thrift stores, combing through odds and ends on the hunt for the interesting and the unusual.
“I hit about––I would say between 30 and 60 thrift stores each week,” Peoples said.“I’m also a collector of things. I love finding oddball things that don’t make sense,” he continued. “I have all of these really weird things, and then I collect all the things that I’m going to be using for my art as well.”
Though it may seem like his art pieces are compiled of a random number of similar objects, there’s actually a method to the madness. Peoples uses his interest in numerical patterns to make a statement.
“A lot of times in a piece, the number that’s in the piece is very important to the piece itself,” he said. “Say, for instance, the Guanyin figurines. I had the 64 Guanyins, and they were actually placed in what’s called a magic square,” he continued. “So, if you were to add up the number placement in each row or diagonal, they all added up to the same number. The colors ended up being very random, but the numerical sequence in which they were placed was not.”
The concept of repetition also plays a role in Peoples’ art. He said he has always been interested in the production of a single item on a massive scale.
“I just always was fascinated with how things are produced and reproduced and how… it’s like when I’m doing my work, each one is kind of individual to me,” he said. “You know, I see the differences in a piece, but when you look at them all together they all look the same.”
As for the brilliant colors? Hundreds of boxes of crayons and the wax from used candles.
“I have a lot of friends that teach art in schools, and they save all their crayons from their schools and donate them to me,” Peoples said. “That’s what I used to do the final coloring. So, the wax will have a little bit of color to it, but the crayon is what really sets the color off when I when I’m doing the molding.”
And those crayons certainly don’t go to waste. When Peoples is ready to retire a piece, he melts down the molds to create something new.
“There are gnomes in the peanuts and there are ducks in the peanuts,” he said. “I’ve been pouring for so long that I just break down old pieces and then add them to new pieces. If I have projects that I’ve worked on for years where I’m not entirely happy with the direction that it’s heading, I’ll just put back and start over again,” he continued. “Just to save on space and also to bring new life to a project.”
“Perchance to Dream: The Art of Michael Peoples” will be showing at the Muskegon Museum of Art through September 16.