The Evolving Work of Katy Artist Mike Peyton: Philosopher, Re-inventor, Destroyer of Sharpies
by Mara Soloway
First published April 2017 in Lifestyles and Homes magazine
Mike Peyton’s drive to create has been getting more and more intense of late, like a disturbance in his force moving him forward. Known since 2005 for his decorated snake gourd sculptures and wooden creations, for the last few years Peyton, 53, has also been in a torrent of reinventing and repurposing and recycling, sometimes even his own work.
Peyton’s gourd artworks have been exhibited across Texas and in California, and he has been recognized by numerous art entities. His most recent local show was at the KCAM Contemporary Art Museum Fort Bend in 2016. He has won Best in Show twice at the Southwest Fine Art Gourd Show in Kerrville, where he will be exhibiting this May.
His works show his appreciation for reptiles and for Southwestern art, Oaxacan wood carvings and American Indian art, especially the simple geometric designs of Anasazi pottery, with a little shamanism thrown in. Stepping into his home in Katy is like entering a museum in Santa Fe. His gourd works, wooden bears and snakes, furniture he’s created and pieces by artists he likes fill the walls, countertops, tables and stand alone on the floor.
Peyton’s first influences were his artist mother and his grandfather who was a well-known sculptor. He has always collected art that he likes. His earliest introduction into Southwestern art was with his first wife and her family, who were serious art collectors and would spend time in Santa Fe and Colorado Springs meeting artists and looking at their work. “That’s where I acquired a taste for Southwestern and American Indian art. It has progressively changed over the years. But that’s where a lot of the influence comes from,” he said.
He discovered his own artistic talent after a bitter divorce when he was low on funds. “I had already been an art collector for many years, and I was jonesing for some new art, but I couldn’t afford any-thing. I realized the only way I was going to get more art was if I made some. Fortunately, I had a barn full of wood.” The first pieces he made include long, undulating snakes, lizards and bears painted and decorated in Southwestern style. His friends were impressed and encouraging.
He discovered snake gourds on eBay and appreciated their reptilian, curving forms. After cleaning and curing them, which gives them a permanent shelf life, Peyton picks up a black Sharpie and begins mak-ing geometric design down the center. He adds touches of colors with acrylic paints, gourd dyes or chalk paint.
The assemblage of bare snake gourds currently in his front room resembles his work, Nightmare, the piece that started him on his current track. Originally the pieces were all individual snakes on which he had drawn his designs. They reassembled themselves in his mind during a conversation with his parents, and he got up and physically regrouped the pieces into an elaborate snake sculpture. “Where that came from I didn’t have any idea but I really really liked it. They did really well in art shows, and now they’re what people know me for,” Peyton said. “It’s been really exciting how it has snowballed and created a whole new momentum.”
The snake gourds are secured by glue and tension and compression.
One of his early influences was the work of Maria and Jacobo Angeles, master Oaxacan wood carvers and painters. Peyton has more than 15 pieces of their work. He says their styles are similar, “although theirs is substantially better.” His first custom order from them is a complicated, undulating snake carved by Jacobo from one piece of wood and painted by Maria. He was stunned by the detail. He created a lizard in their honor that took him six months. The three are now friends.
“My creations give me a huge sense of accomplishment and pride, particularly when I look at what some of these things started as.”
When not in a whirlwind of creation, Peyton is working at what he says are his other two jobs: as a planner/scheduler in the oil and gas industry and as a single dad to three teenagers, 14, 15 and 17. They came to Katy in 2007 by way of Corpus Christi, where he was a special operations officer in the Navy. After 12 years of service, he worked at the Texas State Aquarium as a diver and segment host on its PBS series, Wonders Under the Sea.
“Creating is what I do to keep from going crazy. I tell everybody it’s therapy. I can sit in my chair with a sports game on for hours and hours and be so focused on what I’m doing,” Peyton said. “I work on a small piece of real estate at at a time, and it evolves as it goes.”
With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Memphis University, it makes sense that Peyton is philosophical about the logical side of his art, which he calls geometric expressionism. “Someone looking at my stuff finally put it together.
He said my artistic renderings are very much a function of who I am day in and day out – it’s all very mathematical and linear. It’s just simple geometric shapes,” he said. His fans can be forgiven if they disagree on the concept of simplicity: some of the geometric designs are intricate and taken as a whole are significantly involved.
At one point in 2011, Peyton was looking for a way to make his gourd art faster than the several months it takes using Sharpies. He spent a week with Jesse Reno in Portland, Oregon, whose work Peyton describes as primitive abstract. “I went to see if my mind could work in abstract. It didn’t go too well. While I like it visually, my logical brain just doesn’t function like that when it comes to translating what I see to my hands.” Peyton thinks he has the largest collection of Reno’s work. “They totally speak to me. I can’t create them but I surely can enjoy them.”
Peyton’s newest direction is in repurposing and reinventing, even his snake gourd sculptures, such as putting the head of a gourd on corrugated metal or cabinet doors. His Tribe of the Light series are shamans repurposed with candle holders from yard sales and feathers sent by his mother in Florida who finds them on her walks. To him, a shaman represents healing, just as making art does. “What the human mind and body can do for itself if you believe is astonishing,” he said.
His upcyled furniture pieces would go well in rustic B&Bs, with their boho mix of primitive fabrics, found furniture parts, pallet boards and items from Freecycle.org. Peyton is trying to be good about not picking up too much extra stuff for realistic reasons: so the garage will remain usable, and the house only has so much empty space available.
Peyton states that he simply wants to make stuff, but the drive behind that is more complicated. “I feel more and more driven to create things. I’ve started picking up some steam with this reinventing of stuff – that really, really jazzes me and helps me work out this crazy, mad energy.”
Peyton has projects in different states of being, including still in his head. The unopened boxes of snake gourds and numerous pieces of wood and furniture parts in his garage are there when he needs them. For now he’s limited by time but it is his long-term dream to let his manic energy and creativity take him where they will.
“My creations give me a huge sense of accomplishment and pride, particularly when I look at what some of these things started as,” Peyton said.