By Melanie Rickey
4 minute read

Expressing Vyrao creatively gives us the opportunity to connect with like-minded artists. Nigerian artist Peter Spanjer is one of them. Peter graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2020 with a Masters in Contemporary Art Practise, Moving Image. His first project with us sees Peter returning to abstract colour works he developed during his masters; work which was immediately picked up by the White Cube gallery in London as part of their online showcase for graduates.

His story begins in Bremen, Germany, where Peter, an only child, was raised by his Nigerian parents, who left him to his own creative devices as a child. “I knew I was gay at around age six or seven,” he says. After a move to Leeds at the age of 13, Peter knew he wanted a career in the creative industries, and chose fashion communication for his first pathway, achieving his degree with a visual magazine paying homage to the work of Franca Sozzani’s Italian Vogue, and the work of the art photographer Paolo Roversi.

“Looking back, it was my earliest art practise,” says Peter. His journey to becoming an artist began when he moved with a boyfriend into a house full of young artists who attended Goldsmiths, the art school in south east London.  “I lived with writers, film makers. Sometimes I’d sneak in to lectures at the college so I could find a way to pursue my career.”

His first works were videos and soundscapes featuring him and his friends going out and living their daily lives. “But once at the Royal College, and as the only black person on my course, I really had to figure myself and my practise out. I had to ask questions like who, actually am I? What are my standpoints?  It began the journey of me and self-discovery was a big shock to the system.”

During his course he experimented with video abstraction which in turn informed the colour technique Peter used to express Vyrao. “I was looking at sexuality around black men. I looked at black gay porn films, and did a compilation of stills, zooming in quite close, so you couldn’t tell what it was.” He had the idea to layer colour over them using digital paint techniques. “The finished work became less about sex, touching and kissing and more about the aura of what that exudes, and that’s different energy for different people. When you see the work, you’re not seeing a still from a porn movie, but abstract works you can make your own.”

The final project for his Masters, and the work that made Peter an artist to watch, was created in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis. Titled ‘Make Me Safe’ it was, says Peter, “a reaction to Black Lives Matter, to knowing that safety is seldom. It is also a response to the bombardment of imagery of a dead black man, all this cruel imagery which is associated with black life. I wanted to create a piece that was honest, vulnerable, that reimagined my pain. I wanted it to be a beautiful piece of work. I had no idea the impact it would have.” ‘Make Me Safe’ resonated deeply and the work earned him the notice of the Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery in London and Berlin who now represent his work, and we are deeply honoured to be working with him at Vyrao.

His his debut solo show entitled ‘The Tingle That You Feel on Your Tongue’ at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery’s London Bridge space took place last December. The show featured ‘Make Me Safe’ and a newer video work ‘Every Piece of You’ inspired by Peter’s discovery of meditation and ASMR specifically dedicated to black women. “Though distinct in mood, both videos present emotionally-charged immersive experiences that explore identity, resistance, vulnerability and sensuality through the layering of sound, text and image,” says Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery.

For our collaboration Peter revisited his digital painting work, as well as creating a video and soundscape expressing the good energy and intentions we bottle for Vyrao which you’ll find here and on the Vyrao homepage. “For these works, I was thinking about creating something than encapsulates the fragrances, and its not something you can pinpoint. For me it was important visually not to create something that looked still, it had to have movement.”

“For me it really is about the scent. But it is also about the feeling. So, in a way these works represent fleeting moments. Everyone can have their own interpretation of the scent, and the work.”

Thank you Peter Spanjer.

For further information visit Kristin Hjellegjerde