Art moves people — or rather, people move art, if
Peter Markey has anything to say about it. For
years he’s been building his automata: brightly
colored and minimally carved wooden figures rigged
with handmade cranks and gears, waiting to be
brought to life. At the turn of a wooden dowel, two
statues side by side become lovers stealing a kiss,
or a boat moves across wooden waves.
Photograph courtesy of Lacey Jane Roberts
Markey says his childhood belonged to a different
era. “There was no television,” he says. “The time
was filled with made-up games and making things.”
Girls knitted and crocheted, and boys had hobbies.
Even then, Markey was drawn to wood, carving
pipes for his father, egg cups for his mother, and
toy soldiers for himself. Raised in wartime England,
he understood the value of using what you had.
Now a retired art teacher in his 70s, slightly deaf
and ill-disposed toward computers, Markey’s
subjects have developed along with his style. His >> Paper automatons:
current project is a series of figures inspired by global >> Peter Markey Exhibition:
warming, featuring pedal-powered helicopters and Markey’s works in action:
one- or two-wheeled cycles. He also fashions paper handmade_markey
cutout versions of his models — right down to paper
gears — giving non-mechanical-minded folks a
chance to build automata of their own.
He’s never claimed to be a master craftsman. In
fact, he does as little carving as possible; his models
abound with straight lines, triangles, and rectangles.
He chooses only soft woods, so that all he needs to
do is cut the pieces to size for arms, legs, boats, and
birds. Then he paints everything in bright colors,
as a rebellion against a time when plain wood was
all the rage. The end result is a 3D masterpiece,
anywhere from 2 inches to more than a foot high.
For Markey, it’s all about design. “Art, like everything else, is solving problems,” he says. “The
main question is, what can I leave out? What is the
simplest and easiest solution?”