Art Is Something I Can't Not Do: Interview With Peter Gilroy
Artist, Metal Worker, Climber, and Student of Natural Landscapes
Peter Gilroy makes art because it's something he "can't not do." Gilroy, a rock climber of 11 years, has an artistic background that started young with summer apprenticeships under master goldsmith, Phil Poirier. In college, he studied Physics and Photography, and soon after rediscovered metalworking. Gilroy has an extensive background in jewelry making and building furniture. His products are unique, bright, bold, and minimalist. The process and materials Gilroy uses requires immense creativity as he combines various elements including metals, wood, and computer design. Born and raised in Northern New Mexico, Gilroy has an intimate understanding of the importance of honoring the mountains and natural landscapes that inspire him.
Gilroy shares his thoughts on life, art, and venturing into the unknown. He speaks about the ethics behind buying products in our shifting culture. Gilroy wants to rid our world of the addiction to mass consumption. Through his jewelry, Gilroy aims to encourage people to invest in things that will last, that have meaning, and that won't just get thrown away after one use. Amen!
How did you get into climbing? I got into climbing through the climbing club in college at the University of New Mexico and Stone Age Climbing Gym in Albuquerque. It was something I had always wanted to do, but didn't really even know that it existed. I didn't know anybody that even climbed until college. I was lucky to have a lot of great mentors through the climbing club, guys only a few years older than me, but who were eager to teach me everything they knew. More recently friends in Taos, like Jay Foley, have taught me a lot. A great thing about the community is that everybody I have climbed with has had something to share. It seems like we all can learn from each other.
What has been the best advice you have received in terms of climbing? In life in general? Advice. I think the best thing I was told was to practice falling - to learn to be ok with failure. In climbing, I don't send more often than I ever do send. That has forced me to look at my reasons for climbing, and learn to climb for the joy of it, and also for the challenge.
What do you do for work? Can you describe your lifestyle? I am an artist and I work for myself. I mainly make jewelry now but also make custom hardware and manufacture some products for a few designers. I have made furniture, cabinets, metalworking tools, and more. I also work as a rock climbing guide in the summers. My lifestyle is hectic. I work a lot. Certain seasons are super busy getting ready for christmas sales, springtime jewelry shows, etc. So, I work 80+ hour weeks at times, and then have downtime at other times where I can escape for a week and go climbing. My aim is to create a lifestyle where my work travel and climbing travel can be woven together better - work days balanced with climbing days.
What are your thoughts on our relationship to the places we explore? In terms of our relationship with nature and our impact? I don't think we are really whole or truly ourselves without a good relationship with nature. I was born and raised in northern New Mexico and spent more time outside growing up than I did inside. Living in a city was really difficult for me because of how inaccessible the outdoors were. Without that time outside I lose track of myself. I feel that nature, the mountains especially, are sacred in some way. That may be different and mean different things for everyone, but they are powerful nonetheless.
I think everyone should spend as much time outside as possible but impact is a tough issue. I am spoiled living in New Mexico where we have relatively few people compared to how much land and resources we have. It is hard to even maintain a climbers trail in most places here because it grows over and disappears, boulders receive multiple "first ascents" because years go by in between climbers trying a problem. Going to visit other places our impact is much more apparent and can be frightening. Things are changing here in New Mexico as well. I think responsible development is important in order to preserve as much as possible, but also maintain access, which can just mean thinking about where we walk, picking up trash, and thinking twice about what we do and how that will affect others.
Also, to support our climbing areas, I've been talking with the Access Fund and will be donating a portion of my online sales to supporting them very soon. I'm still finalizing some details and getting my website updated. I'm excited to be able to use my art to help preserve the places that inspired the art in the first place.
Clearly, climbing influences your artwork. How do you get an idea for a piece of jewelry? I struggled for a while with feeling like climbing and work were contrary to each other. About two years ago I asked myself, why not combine my passion for making with my passion for climbing? On my website, "My Story" page is a video that describes this a little better from a Pech Kucha presentation.
I get inspired by patterns, colors, and textures in the rock and in nature. I have always loved the bold minimalist silhouettes of mountains and the landscape at sunset. I take these ideas from nature and combine them with explorations in metalworking techniques to create my art. I love trying new techniques, playing with ideas and figuring out how to make them. I love learning and exploring.
When I go outside I notice details in the rock that are beautiful and then the challenge is to figure out how to recreate the feeling or emotion of that idea. I'm not trying to replicate nature - I could never compete with nature, but if I can create a piece with a fraction of the texture, beauty, and emotion, then I am successful. My granite line of work is kind of like that. I've also got a sandstone line coming out later this year that I'm very excited about.
Is it easy to follow through or do you sometimes have to scrap ideas after you start? Lots of ideas get scrapped, oh yeah. A lot of times I push ideas through even if I'm not happy with them, but I’m trying to learn to be okay with letting projects fail and just putting them aside. I've got more ideas than I may ever have time or money to create, and they are always evolving. It’s a lot of fun.
Has climbing changed your life? If so, how? I'd say climbing has changed my life a lot. I was a good student in high school but was chubby, awkward, and very uncoordinated. Climbing really gave me a new relationship with my body, and has taught me so much physically and mentally. It has been the longest lasting pursuit I've ever had and it's not losing any steam. I can't imagine not climbing.
Would you describe yourself as a risk taker? I'm definitely not a risk taker in an adrenaline junkie sort of way. I'm super cautious and take as many precautions as possible to stay safe, but I also enjoy pushing my limits mentally and physically and have put up some tall, highball boulders and love free soloing as well. I love playing with the headspace in climbing, reaching that place of intense focus where everything else, myself included, seem to disappear. I think risk is inherent in everything we do and we so often don't think about it and whether it is worth it, driving being a great example. My business feels like one of the biggest risks I've ever taken but, like climbing, the joy it provides is worth it.
What are your thoughts on going into the unknown? The unknown is an interesting concept. I think the known is a fallacy. The idea of safety is fake, and finding peace and solace in the unknown is a much richer experience. I love that aspect in life, and in climbing, of reaching what we thought was a limit and realizing that we can still climb harder, go farther, and explore deeper. Our limits are what we create them to be.
What are your interests and passions aside from climbing? Do you find it hard to balance your other interests with your climbing? I have lots of interests, but in my life my priority is making art and climbing. If I have time I like to play guitar and cook big, wonderful meals. My most difficult aspect in seeking balance is that both my jewelry and climbing are very time consuming passions and there is only so much time in a day. Unfortunately, since I haven't figured out how to be a pro climber, and I have bills to pay, I end up working more than I would like and not climbing as much.
What places have climbing and art taken you? I have gotten to travel the U.S. a good bit in the last few years for climbing and my art. Both climbing and art give me a way to meet and interact with other people and find a place of connection. Last summer I got to spend time in Lander, WY for the International Climber’s Fest (that was a great time), then Yosemite, Indian Creek, and Washington.
Where do you see yourself next? What's next? I'm really looking forward to more big mountain adventures, long alpine routes and remote boulders. I love exploring and want to just get way out there, miles from anyone. In my business I am working to connect with more climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. While climbers may not be the most wealthy demographic in this country it is really important to me to actually connect with the people that buy my work.
I've made a lot of custom pieces for people this past year, and I'm always psyched by how meaningful and powerful a piece can be for someone; things like a Mt. Hood belt buckle to commemorate a certain time in a person's life. I'm working on some wedding rings right now with a sandstone texture since the couple loves the desert southwest and the climbing there. I want to make things with meaning. We're done with the days of disposable items and mass consumerism. It is my goal to make things beautiful, practical, and long lasting so that they can be worn and cherished for a long time, not just thrown away when someone gets bored. This is why I do a lot of work in titanium because it is such a tough metal so it will last a long time, and it has some beautiful properties. My first pieces of jewelry I made for myself as a way to remember the mountains and the rocks when I was inside working or traveling and had to be in a big city, to bring a part of those experiences I have outside into the rest of my life.
What's your favorite part about climbing? Climbing is such a full experience. It is both full body physical, as well as intensely mental. It is a community, a beautiful place to go, a purely fun thing to do, and a way to learn about ourselves. I think that is my favorite part about climbing.
What draws you to create art?
Art is something
I can't not do.