The artist Peter Dayton has found success in both punk rock and painting. His canvases filled with bright flowers and bold surfboard stripes are inextricably linked to his days opening for the Ramones as the frontman of La Peste. The tone of the two may appear dissimilar on the surface, but they share underlying parallels; Dayton refers to his flower series—which sprung from finding a stack of vintage home magazines in an East Hampton dumpster—as “flower porn.” “I think there is a lot of energy in my work regardless of its style,” he says.
While attending the Museum School of Fine Art in Boston, the young painter saw the Ramones at CBGB in 1976 and decided to take a break from art school to give punk rock a try. For the next ten years he stopped making visual art and instead “was just making as much noise as I could.” Dayton was able to graduate from the Museum School by performing in front of the panel of teachers and students that awarded the credits for his diploma.
“I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. I was totally committed at the time," Dayton says. “A few years ago I found out that John Peel (one of the most important and influential DJs of all time) had the only record we did in his personal record box of his favorite one hundred singles of all time. I had no idea he even knew about it.”
While pursuing music in Paris, he was influenced by Jean Helion, the French abstract artist of the 1930s. “To me he is comparable to Philip Guston, in that he radically changed his direction late in life (from abstraction to figurative work)," Dayton says. “Being around an artist like that, I realized that I wanted to be a visual artist again and it was time to make a change.”
“I regret not taking the punk rock path further, but hey, I knew it would be hard to keep up and eventually I wanted everything to get quiet and slow down again. It gets crazy sleeping all day and playing in clubs every night.” So he headed back to the States, moved in with his mother in East Hampton, and started over.
Music nonetheless remains part of his identity and his work. “Music is everything. Or was everything. I can’t say I actively try to listen to new things. I am stuck between 1964 and 1980. That’s really what I like. I’m more influenced by David Bowie than, say, Paul Cézanne. That said, Van Gogh is pretty punk if you think about it.”
Dayton’s first major recognition as a visual artist came with the flower series, which drew the likes of the fashion designer Valentino and the architect Peter Marino when it was first shown at a Chelsea gallery. For his next project, Dayton happened upon a pile of leftover wood from a gallery renovation and brought it back to his studio. “One day I thought, ‘Wow, I should just lay a stringer down the center, slap on a decal, and make it look like a section of a surfboard.’ I loved what it looked like and that it didn’t have the surfboard shape. It was so much fun making that work!”
The art dealer James Salomon later asked Dayton to think about making tables from the surfboard paintings. “I got excited and dove in. It’s just as difficult making something that’s functional as it is to make an artwork, and the functional artwork will have a lot of demands made on it that you, the artist, have no control over because it won’t just hang on a wall.” The tables are made by Ghost Editions in Sag Harbor, and Dayton paints and covers them in resin before taking them to a body shop for a final coat of urethane and polishing. “The tables look hot, and it’s fun for an artist to make something functional.” One such table, Daytona 200, is now available at GREY AREA.
Dayton’s latest work, 45 rpm record paintings, speak more directly to his musical past. “It’s part of this project I’m doing called rocknrollshrink. I act as a psychiatrist and record people talking about how music has affected their lives. I’ve been at fordPROJECT on 57th St. for the past month interviewing people who make appointments to come and talk with me. Pretending to be a doctor has made me a good listener.”
Peter Dayton’s rocknrollshrink and painting of the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud” 45 are currently on view through May 24 at GREY AREA’s music-inspired exhibition Sound Quality.