John Peralta’s Art Is In The Details

When engineering meets art

John A. Peralta is a self-taught artist whose unconventional style of sculpture incorporates iconic mechanical objects and high-tech materials. This combination produces astonishingly beautiful and complex representations that release the memories held inside. His interpretation of what is known in engineering terms as ‘the exploded diagram’ is truly original and demonstrates his extraordinary imagination, technical expertise and inventiveness.

John Peralta never had the opportunity to study engineering, “since I was a kid I was just so fascinated by how things worked. At that time, everything was transistorised. I remember when the first digital calculators came out, they were not the LCD screen ones, they had little lights inside that would light up the numbers. ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and ‘Westworld’ just came out and I was fascinated.” Even though these technologies seem really silly to us now, at the time it was cutting edge. “Still today, everywhere I look I tend to see the design or artistic ideas that are related to my style of sculpture. I’m always cataloguing in the back of my mind: exploded diagrams, electrical or schematic diagrams.” Today’s diagrams are all computerised but that is a very recent development. Previously, people sat at drafting tables, drawing these little parts from things as complicated as carburettors. “It’s insane how good these people were at drafting. People never appreciated the art going into those diagrams that technically only electricians or engineers got to see - the general public doesn’t look at those things. That’s my work, I’m taking those diagrams and making them more accessible by exposing them to the public. People look at my art and say ‘I could never do that, you must have so much patience,’ but the truth is I could never do those diagrams either, those drawings take incredible talent and amazing patience.”

"If we can imagine it, humans are capable of making it happen."

A native of New Mexico, Peralta’s family roots date back to the second Spanish governor, Don Pedro de Peralta, who founded the city of Santa Fe in 1607. And although he now lives in Austin Texas, his New Mexico family and heritage remain major influences in his life and his work. Peralta spent more than 20 years living abroad and travelling throughout East Asia, India, Africa, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Europe. For most of his professional career, he worked in corporate and educational fields. “My influences are not only from Mexico as I lived for many years in Hong Kong. It was really a great time for me experimentally with my art - which I was not doing professionally at the time as I was a business consultant. It’s when I really came to realise how short life is and if I was going to really pursue any interest in art.” One of the expressions of that pursuit was when John started a toy company. “I was inventing toys. It was a perfect place for me to develop that company. When it ended I looked for other ways to express that interest, and that’s when I found that bicycle diagram in an exploded view. I was still living in a small flat in Hong Kong and I couldn’t explode a bicycle, so I began with a pocket watch and decided to go from there. I still have that piece at home.”    

Peralta received no formal training in the arts, and it wasn’t until his thirties that he found his creative voice. His interests are in visual and textural contrasts, motion, mechanics, space, time, and the use of bold colours. But above all, machines, mechanics and the working of those are what inspire him. “Generally, I’m inspired when I see ingenuity. For many years I had this theory that says: if we can imagine it, humans are capable of making it happen. We’re seeing that today, in the 80s we couldn’t imagine having a phone in our pocket and much less the internet. There’s no limit to what we can accomplish if we can imagine it first.” With my mechanical structures I usually see a piece, at an estate sale or an antique shop – everywhere I travel I go to antique shops, so I have a massive pile of machines in my studio. Oftentimes the inspiration is how to present it. I have an old projector for instance, but I haven’t done anything with it yet because I’m still waiting on that idea of how I’m going to present it in a new way. Once I decide on a piece, I’ll examine it quite a bit.” However, John reveals that often now ideas come from clients, as the majority of his work is based on commissions. Clients come to him and usually, they have a vague idea of the piece or location where they want to put it. The best example might be “Big Bang” created in 2019 as a client came to him with fossils: seashells fossils that he’s been collecting on his property for years. He had this idea of the Big Bang and wanted the artist to do something with those. “I think a lot about the presentation, how I’m going to frame it. Is it going to be suspended by the ceiling? Or is it going to be on a pedestal? Then I’ll start with constructing the frame, whatever that might be: woodwork or steel - usually it combines both as the constructions are heavy. I need to complete the frame completely before I even start to suspend the parts.”

 

John Peralta’s new fine art installation Music City Ensemble is the centrepiece of Virgin Hotel Nashville in a major collaboration with Virgin Group. The collaboration pairs the company’s cutting-edge venture with Peralta’s innovative vision for engineered marvels. Unsurprisingly, music takes centre stage and is celebrated in every corner of the hotel. The Music City Ensemble features 12 artistically arranged country music instruments from top manufacturers such as A&F Drum Co, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation and Eastwood Guitars, suspended mid-air in the lobby. Indeed, these instruments float from the ceiling and expand outward as an exploded diagram with Peralta’s signature finesse. The installation is meant to be a cultural landmark that offers a nuanced perspective on public art, country music, and Americana. “I live in Austin, Texas. I’m represented by a gallery there and I had a piece which was a trumpet that I had found in an antic shop and which sold. While it was still on display though, an interior designer from NYC that designed the Van Zandt Hotel in Austin came to see it. Townes Van Zandt was a very famous musician; this hotel was built around that theme of brass instruments. She really wanted to bring me on that project but it was too late. So, when they got the contract to design the Virgin Hotel in Nashville, she naturally thought of me as Nashville – just like Austin – is a music city. They contacted me to come up with some ideas. They started with the main atrium, which was this lounge area, a bar and this 34-foot ceiling. I proposed an inverted, exploded upside-down grand piano, that would be suspended from the ceiling overhead, so people would sit below it. They loved the idea. But as time went on, they just decided they were going to put a giant chandelier there. So instead, they suggested that I work on the space at the entrance of the hotel. But there was just not enough space for the grand piano - we were talking 14 feet in the ceiling instead of 34. We tried different configurations, with a stand-up piano, but it wasn’t going to work. Then someone at Virgin suggested that instead of a piano or brass instrument, we should do country music instruments and I agreed that it made more sense. I came up with more designs of all these guitars and drums. I reached out to instrument manufacturers based in Austin, and they all contributed: from Fender, A&F, Eastwood, and even local violin shops.” 

Words by Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle

Photos provided by artist

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