Haute Art From the House of Dayton
“Kind of least likely,” is how Peter Dayton describes the likelihood of his being an artist connected to global luxury emporia including Chanel, Guerlain, and Louis Vuitton, boutiques of the highest fashion echelon for which his artwork has been commissioned. Most recently, he completed a 27-foot-long surfboard installation for the elaborate renovation and expansion of the Louis Vuitton store at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.
It’s not the art that is incongruous. In fact his gorgeous, eye-popping blooms and floral collages, for which he is best known, perfectly conjure the feminine yet trippy vibe of haute couture. It’s the artist, however, who is hardly emblematic of the fashion set.
“I dress in the style of a housepainter or a carpenter,” he admitted.
“So, you’re not a metrosexual?” this reporter ventured, sitting across from him in his art-filled studio in Springs, where he has lived since the 1990s.
Surprisingly, he needed to think about the question for a bit. He was dressed in a logo-free polo shirt, baggy shorts, and flip-flops. Grooming products did not appear to have been part of his morning’s toilette.
“I used to be,” he finally said. “There was a lot of makeup involved when I was in the band.”
And so goes the story of Peter Dayton, the man least likely to have once been a badass punk rocker, who then, after burning out in Paris in the 1980s and returning home to live with Mom in East Hampton, rediscovered his talent for fine art after finding magazine images of flowers in a dumpster, and went on to become an artist with work hanging in luxury fashion ateliers around the world.
“It started with Peter Marino,” said Mr. Dayton, referring to the New York and Southampton-based architect known in equal measures for designing opulent flagship stores for the luxury labels, for his perennial uniform of black bondage leather, as well as for an extensive collection of art that began in the late 1970s when Andy Warhol paid him for architectural services with a painting.
It was in 2004 that Mr. Marino called on Mr. Dayton to create an elevator interior for Chanel’s 57th Street boutique. Inspired by Coco Chanel and her love of camellias, Mr. Dayton devised a wall of 19 panels in various sizes, all of gigantic camellias placed within a metal grid. With the other two walls of metal endlessly reflecting the riotous white blooms that are one of the most instantly recognizable motifs in all of Chanel’s work, the functional elevator, which is still in use, became cool and contemporary, enveloping the rider in the brand’s sumptuous DNA.
In 2014, when Mr. Marino was hired by Guerlain, the French purveyor of high-end perfumery and beauty products, for an extensive makeover of its flagship boutique on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, he once again contracted Mr. Dayton to provide the requisite art. This time, Mr. Dayton’s flower collages were turned into tabletops for Guerlain’s Michelin-starred in-house restaurant. Each rectangular piece of art was set with epoxy and finished with a layer of clear cement used in luxury cars, said the artist. He made 25 surfaces in all, each featuring a different variety of bloom to represent the floral bouquets from which Guerlain fragrances are crafted.
A short walk down the Champs-Elysees, near the Tuileries Gardens, on one of the most storied Parisian squares — Place Vendome — is Maison Louis Vuitton, the venerable fashion emporium where Mr. Dayton’s artwork can also be found. In an untitled piece from 1997, colorful dahlias, resembling pompoms, burst with energy and perfection. It’s an image that, given its haughty surroundings, seems to defiantly tout its humble origins from the cover of a Burpee seed packet.
Mr. Dayton graduated in 1975 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston. “I always had a good color sense and painted mostly landscapes,” he said. But while at school, he became the lead singer and guitarist for La Peste, a punk rock band. “I kind of stopped making art,” said Mr. Dayton, which raised eyebrows among his college professors, who warned him that he needed to get his act together in order to graduate.
For his final college project he performed a punk song for the review committee. Dressed in red leather pants, “I basically screamed some lyrics at them till they said, “Great, you graduate, you can leave now.”
La Peste, which took its name from Albert Camus’s 1947 novel of the same name (called “The Plague” in English), was credited with helping to spark the 1970s Boston punk rock scene. In the mid-80s Mr. Dayton left for Paris, where he formed his own band, landed a record deal, performed with the Cars, and even became a lip-sync singer on French television. But by 1988, he was done with the music scene and returned to live with his mother in East Hampton, where he hoped he would get back to making art.
“I hadn’t done any art in 10 years,” he recalled. “It was like starting from scratch.” It was then that he came across advertisements for flower seed packets in a stack of House and Garden magazines lying in a dumpster. By cutting out the flowers, and photocopying the images in varying sizes, then collaging them together, he developed a style that he describes as “grandma’s flowers on acid.” Indeed, when looking at his larger canvases with glossy flowers in multiple color schemes exploding, often with no background to distract from their sheer force of personality, the image has an almost psychedelic quality, pulling the eye into the dark heart of these flowers through the sheer power of scale and color.
Around 2004 he also started experimenting with brightly colored stripes and created a series of surfboard paintings. Presented as glossy rectangular panels, the art was meant to emulate the 1960s golden age of surfing and the Pop Art nature of surfboard designs, epitomized by a Sears and Roebuck line of boards. They were so popular, he said, that at the opening of an Upper East Side show in 2006, he sold 14 surfboard paintings.
A specially commissioned 27-foot-long by 24-foot-wide surfboard now hangs in the newly reopened Louis Vuitton store in Costa Mesa. The board, which had to be driven cross-country lying flat in a truck, is placed in the store alongside a mirror, creating the illusion of a 54-foot longboard, or perhaps a nod to the endless summers of California.
He has not been to see this installation in person yet, but last month while vacationing in Paris with his wife, he popped into the chic Chanel store on Rue Cambon in the hopes of glimpsing his artwork currently used in one of the V.I.P. fitting rooms. But security personnel standing outside would not allow Mr. Dayton to enter as someone very important was being fitted. “That’s how high-end the place is,” he said.
Closer to home, Mr. Dayton’s work was on display recently at a private residence in Sag Harbor along with that of a dozen other artists in a show he curated called “Frankenstein.”
“Artists desperately want to bring something to life but need the viewer to actually make that happen. That’s how it works. It’s weird being an artist. It’s not easy but we love it,” he offered, as the inspiration behind “Frankenstein” and perhaps of his life patched together by a series of unlikely talents.