I migrated to Orlando in the fall of 2013. I spent the first six months hidden away in Avalon Park, deep in East Orlando. Yet, even from my wasteland fortress, I heard the name B-Side. It struck me with a passion, and I knew there was nothing that could keep me from befriending what I considered to be some of Orlando’s art legends. One of the last – yet most memorable – artists I encountered from the B-Side collective, was Peterson Guerrier. I immediately realized he was the quintessential artist. He created deep and meaningful work, dressed with an elegance and sophistication I would see in movies about Bohemian artists, and was always surrounded by beautiful people.
After exhibiting in a group show alongside Peterson last month, I decide to check in on him and hear his insight on the B-Siders. I arrive in the early evening during one of Florida’s sudden summer showers. After a brief greeting and tour of his space, we make our way upstairs to his studio. Peterson has a large collection of books and art magazines. We reflect on the short journey of Artborne Magazine. There’s hope in his voice, and quite frankly, I’m relieved. With the sound of rain pattering the roof’s shingles above, we settle in for the interview.
We’re with Peterson right now, and I need to find somewhere to put the recorder.
*Peterson struggles with a slew of old gallon paint buckets, they begin tumbling around the floor.
Peterson’s struggling with a couple cans of paint at the moment, I’m a bit scared for my life.
You scared for your life? Don’t be scared for your life.
So, where were you born, man?
Miami, Florida. Originally from Haiti, but my family migrated to Canada. There’s a lot of French Canadian. My grandma was French-Canadian, and my granddad was Haitian. My mom was born in Haiti, and my dad was born in… Canada. I’m bad at that, I’m bad at memory stuff. I grew up in Miami. Had a fun childhood there. Everything was in Miami.
Man. Kids are jackasses, myself included. Were you a terrible child?
I was a horrible child. Most people see me now and they say you don’t look… but I used to skip a lot, fight a lot. I was the skinniest one in my group, so I always felt like I had to prove myself, which is a trait that still kinda lingers. As a kid, the minute something happened, I jumped in. I still feel like I have to prove myself sometimes. Over time that changed, I realized there was more to life than fights. I wanted to do good in school for the sake of my mom, because I really respect her.
It was the typical, “art saved my life”. But other than that, every summer, I’d be fixing bikes. My house was the bike shop in the neighborhood. We’d fix bikes, then terrorize the neighborhood after that. There was this lady that had five dogs, and we’d ride in circles around her house to aggravate the dogs. Growing up, I played a lot of sports too. There was a church a block away from us. The gate was always closed. So what would we do? Every afternoon around four we would jump the gate and play basketball until one of the fathers or the nuns would come out and scream at us. And that was every afternoon. When we finally got tired of them screaming at us, we would jump the fence and leave. We also started maybe vandalizing the church a little bit. I don’t know if I should admit that.
You hear that Father? His name is Peterson, you can press charges!
Peterson. I used to vandalize your church.
Are you religious? Did you spend a lot of time in a church growing up?
I did. My family is very religious. I spent a lot of time, well besides getting in trouble, in church. My family is Seventh Day Adventist. Basically, couldn’t do nothing. No jewelry, no tattoos, no nothing. We observed the Sabbath, and every Friday night, sundown, it was no T.V., no telephone, no games, no computer. Nothing. I would sit in my room and read a book or go to sleep. My family is really religious. I’m not. I’m spiritual, but not religious.
I also grew up in religion, and even though I’m not involved in it anymore, I’ve found there’s always an underlying subconscious amount of religion present in my life. Do you find that it seeps into your life, and into your art?
Oh yeah, for example, my necklace is a rosary. I took the cross off and replaced it with a paint brush. It has the two things I keep closest to my heart, which is God and my ability to paint. No matter what, the spiritual always follows, it’s my backbone. No matter how frustrating life gets, I can always fall back on that. I would never preach to you, or quote scripture. But that’s because for the life of me I don’t remember any.
Actually, I think I know one. And it goes: “Jesus wept”.
I think you misquoted that verse! Does the red circle you paint have anything to do with your faith?
Nah, the red circle started as a joke almost six years ago. I used to always love artists that used gimmicks in their art to capture attention.
Anyways. There’s two things I put in my work, the rubber ducky, and the red circle. We had a store a couple years ago. I did a piece, a monkey with a rubber ducky on his shoulder, with a red circle as a target. But then it was the thing that people recognized the most. And it has more meaning to me now. And also, there’s the underlying “windows to the soul”.
I hate painting eyes, man.
I find most artists do. It’s either eyes or feet. My thing was feet and eyes, but now I’ve started working on feet too.
Well let’s go back to the beginning. Studying Art. You studied art in high school?
Yes. I graduated from Design and Architecture Senior High School in Miami Florida. I dabbled in everything that had to do with art. In ninth grade you had to cycle through everything you could get your hands on, drafting, graphic, web, studio painting, film, we did it all. By tenth grade, you had to pick your focus. In high school my focus was film, and studio painting, but basically, I dabbled in everything. The school was amazing. It was a pioneer for the art district in Miami. What used to be the worst place in Miami over 15, 16 years ago. Now there’s Gucci, Prada, and Tom Ford right across from the school. Our school was what started the standard for high art and what the design district should be. When I was in school, there was nothing in the area. We had top of the line industry standard. I was using Photoshop when it was Photoshop 1 or 2.
What is it now, something like Photoshop 97?
Yeah, I’m going to stop talking, I feel old now. Every year there’s something new and it’s the same damn thing.
So the foundations of your education were design-oriented. Where did you go to college?
My first year of college, I went pre-med. My mom said, “Fine, you got art out of your system, now go do something that will make you money.” So I went to FIU. And I couldn’t do it. I switched my school, without my mom knowing. Ended up in CCS, College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Started in animation, didn’t dig it, switched to studio art. [Detroit] was fun, but never again, it was too cold.
I feel you. I lived in Memphis my freshman year. When did you move to Orlando?
2006. And I got involved with the B-Side in 2007-2008. Back then it wasn’t B-Side yet. They had a foundation here and there. It started because Swam, Tre, Tobar, and Lemus, they all knew each other. I think they all went to school together. One day a friend of mine told me to come downtown and start shooting photos of random people. And I didn’t want to do that. Well, I did, and we ran into Tre. And [Tre] said, “Yeah, matta fact, Swam has a shop.”Well, the following weekend I went to the shop. Met Swam, started talking, and that was it.
When I first moved to Orlando, I didn’t touch a brush for 2 years, I was just working in the courthouse. And even when I started hanging out with the guys, in my head I told myself I couldn’t show these guys my art, they’re too talented. Then there was an art show at redefined gallery, and I brought some pieces in. That’s where it all started for me. We did more work together, more shows together. And B-Side grew to be —
—A cultural icon.
Yeah, it’s a cultural icon
When I first moved here, I thought, how dope would it be to be a part of B-Side.
Yeah, B-Side used to be part of the city. We did a lot of things, there wasn’t an event in Orlando that B-Side wasn’t at. Music, art, movies, we were there. Obviously, everyone grew and started doing their own thing. When did you move to Orlando?
So you never saw what B-Side use to be. On Orange Ave, every Wednesday night there were close to 20-30 artists outside painting live. You couldn’t go downtown without seeing art.
There’s a new generation of B-Siders. What are your thoughts on them now and their direction?
It’s great, some of the new artists are phenomenal. It’s great to have them, some of the old timers have gotten complacent. They find their niche and stay there. Whereas the youngens, the youngbloods, are injecting the passion that some of us old timers have lost. Because as long as we’re making money, we forget the passion. Some of us have families and have to make sure our families eat. But that young blood injected in there, they’re challenging us, they’re saying, “Yo, you better come strong, that weak stuff isn’t going to work.” So I’m proud of them. You heard of Halsi? He started coming around when he was 14 – if not younger than that. And over the years, he’s grown so much. Now he’s 17, and he’s never stopped reppin’ B-Side. He’s more consistent than the rest of us.
B-Side commands respect. The name, does it still have the same influence it used to?
I can’t answer that question because I pulled myself away from that name. I’ve gotten lost in my head, and in my own world, I fell in love with what B-Side use to be, the community, the togetherness. We did things together, and we don’t do that anymore. I guess we’ve all outgrown it. We only come together probably for the yearly show. And that’s the only time we see each other. But we’re still proud of the name, though.
I’m proud of being a B-Sider. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am now. When I moved to Orlando, I wasn’t doing art, and without those guys, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I got so lost in the regular life. It was go to work, come home, watch T.V., go out with some friends, grab some drinks. And always look forward to weekends. I hated that. B-Side changed that.
Without B-Side, the love I have for art now, I don’t think I would’ve had that. I wouldn’t have been able to fall in love with art all over again.
Thanks Peterson. Can we talk more about your processes, influences? And your involvement with HG Arts. Because we’re caught up now to the present. HG Arts, and your current work.
HG Arts stands for Hospitality Gallery, as far as I know. And it’s only to the trade, to designers. The stuff we do: we outsource original artwork and we get license from the artists to reproduce their original artwork. We don’t just reproduce art, so were not a factory in that sense.
HG studio artists produce a large volume of work on a weekly basis, and each artist in the studio produces between 10-20 pieces of art. So there’s no time to think process and what you want to do. I used to overthink a lot of my work, and HG has helped me go from idea to creating, and then going back and reworking if I need to.
Good – you answered my next question. I was going to ask if HG has affected your personal work. Taking up so much of your energy, does it drain you of any creativity? Obviously not, based on what I see here.
It’s like an industry, if you’re a doctor working private practice and you also work in the hospital, eventually there’s going to be something that suffers. At the beginning, my personal work suffered. Because I wasn’t thinking about what I was going to do here [at Peterson’s studio]. You know I may not be proud of a lot of things in my life, but I’m proud that if I died – knock on wood – someone somewhere, has my work. They have a piece of me in their life. But even though my personal work suffered a little, I eventually found a balance.
But there’s a lot I’ve learned from HG Arts. It’s great to know some industry secrets. As an everyday artist, we come in here and paint, but we don’t think about the consumer, we stay in ourselves. Which is great, but we don’t only paint for ourselves. So I’ve found a way to feed both beasts.
I think if I worked at a place like that, I would learn a lot of discipline.
Before I worked at HG, for almost 2 years, I didn’t have a regular job. All I did was art, it was enough. And the word selling out— there’s no such thing. There’s making a living and feeding your family, or being poor and having 10,000 paintings in your house. HG has given me the discipline to get up, go to the studio, paint, and have it done at a certain time. With HG, you have a timeframe for everything to be done. There’s no going back and retouching or redoing. It’s amazing because it’s given me structure. As a professional artist, if you don’t have a structure, you won’t be successful.
Do you believe Orlando has an art identity?
I would like to say yes. Honestly, I think it’s more abstract based. But the art scene here… urban art hasn’t picked up the way it’s supposed to. In my immediate circle, we do a lot of figurative work.
What was the question again?
Do we [the Orlando art scene] have defining characteristics?
I don’t think we do. Orlando’s all over the place. We don’t have a concrete scene yet, it’s completely different in each area. We’re so divided, it’s hard to pinpoint what our “scene” is.
Last question. Do you have a favorite artist in town?
So many cats I admire. For example Swamburger and Andrew Spear, their linework is amazing. This is hard, man! Naming one would not do it justice. Do I have to pick just one? I’ll name top three. Is that alright? Top three.
This cat had a lot to do with me going back to painting figures, Cake Marques. My second would be Lemus, I love Lemus. The way he expresses himself and his work. He doesn’t have to be there to explain the work. It explains itself. Actually, I’m going to give you four. Swam, obviously. Love his artwork. And Andrew [Spear].
Yeah, not in that order, but yeah.