Visual Arts

Studio Visit: Grand Seclusion

Every afternoon, a whirlwind kicks up inside Pete Deise's studio.

It's not just the metal sculptor at work. The artist has considered that he might have a roommate or two of the paranormal variety, someone who playfully blows dust around on a daily basis.

"It's kind of weird, and the wind makes the doors blow open and shut," he says.

Otherwise, Deise is enjoying the solitude of his new space on Grand Avenue, away from his house -- where he worked, until recently -- and completely secluded from the hubbub of city life.

Make that almost completely secluded.

The 10-foot steel walls Deise constructed to enclose the space -- no more than a dirt lot, really -- make for an ominous front from the street. The only indication that this spot on a largely industrial street houses an artist's studio is the steel "deise" that sits atop the front gate, and the smell of mesquite wood from the fire pit.

And to avoid complete confinement, Deise has cleverly left an elongated egg shape open in the front gate that allows passers-by to look into the space. As he sits and chats, faces peer into the opening and offer greetings.

"That's exactly what I wanted to happen. I wanted people to be able to look in but I also wanted privacy at the same time," he says.

Deise admits that the dynamic is delicate. "It took me a month to construct these walls, and I wanted them so they could hide everything around me here . . . that way all you can see while you're here is the sky."

In this new space, Deise can craft pieces even larger than the 15-foot structures he's made in the past. He's focusing on stainless steel now, rather than welded aluminum and industrial steel. While he works, a burst of sparks and flames shoots out from the spot Deise is focusing on, and you realize how dangerous this work can be. In fact, Deise bears several scars from his art, and he likes to tell the story about the ball of hot steel that fell on his shoe one day.

Because the steel he works with is so hot, it generally shrinks whatever it touches -- so all Deise could do was wait for the steel to burn its way through, before removing his shoe.

Deise loves his new digs, but he's nostalgic about his former studio, crammed into the small backyard of his Phoenix home, in the shadow of the state fairgrounds.

"I'm a little nervous, to be honest. I've never not lived where I've worked before. I like to live in it and sleep in it, and I wonder what it's like to be away from it."

He misses the 50-year-old pine tree outside his old studio, the swing set he customized with steel accents for his daughter Madison, his supportive neighbors (two of whom even drove a truck full of his work to New York City recently for an exhibition there), and his pet pit bull. Deise says that Madison has always been a part of his work in some way, mainly because she's witnessed some of his most astounding creations in her own backyard. Deise also has made room for her in his exhibitions, providing her with her own space to showcase her drawings.

Deise and his wife, Irmita, welcomed another child, Hudson, in June. Pete figures he'll have free labor in a few years.

Standing in the corner of his new studio talking with friends who've stopped by to visit on a recent First Friday evening, everything about this scene seems in its place. Deise jokes around in his dirty tee shirt, his characteristic beer in hand at the end of the day, and everything about him is natural and relaxed, and meant to be where it is at this very moment.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Maidi Terry