Peter Shire’s splash mugs, scorpion teapots, and Big Sur sofas are at the intersection of craft and industrial design. Their palette is sun-bleached – peachy, pink and lime – an aesthetic drawn equally from Art Deco, Bauhaus and his native Echo Park, LA. He trained as a ceramicist at the Chouinard Institute and then opened his own studio in 1972. It was five years later that Ettore Sottsass, founder of the Memphis Group of design, sought Shire out and invited him to Milan. In the following years, Shire’s Brazil table (1981) and Bel Air chair (1982) were to become iconic Memphis pieces, an aesthetic splice of Space Age architecture, Milanese craftsmanship, and the purest LA kitsch. Shire’s work has been described as post-pottery, postmodern, hypermodern in excess. Memphis was critiqued in its day as the worst kind of garish, and for toying with aesthetic taboos – the very opposite of form follows function. Today, by contrast, it’s become a symbol of high taste, and Shire is sought by collectors around the world.
I reach Shire at his studio in Echo Park on one of those typically exquisite morning in LA, glimpsed out the corner of his screen. He wears a Breton T-shirt and a silk bowler hat, rubbing his eyes – like something from the commedia dell’arte, I think: a postmodern Pierrot. He seems to jerk himself awake, and when I’m able steer him from ill-judged innuendos (which come forth), we talk expansively about levitation and horsemanship, Milan of the 70s, mimetic magic and, of course, joy.