Peter Kitchell and the art of freedom

The Freightliner Sprinter parked on a country road

He needs loneliness for his art, says Peter Kitchell. The American finds this isolation surrounded by nature. His converted Freightliner Sprinter T1N serves as his mobile home.

Wanderlust and curiosity drive the artist

Whether South America, the Sahara or Europe: wanderlust and curiosity have always driven Peter Kitchell. In the 1970s and 80s, the US American artist’s wanderlust took him from the West to the East across the USA, to some of the most incredible places on earth. Peter Kitchell finally settled down in Ashfield in the state of Massachusetts. Yet the artist still regularly sets out on trips, generally in his Freightliner Sprinter T1N, which he has converted into a mobile home.

Learning means questioning

You grew up in a family where art played a major role. How did this shape your learning process?

Peter Kitchell: You learn by questioning things. You learn by remaining authentic and hungry for knowledge. I think that this type of learning is far better than prescribing what others have to learn. This approach restricts.

What do you mean by this?

You have to do things yourself. Simply understanding the theory is not enough. There are almost no originals out there. That is why you have to go your own way and to distinguish yourself from others for your own personal passion. This applies equally to art, science and the trades.

The Kitchell family: creativity creates a common bond

Peter Kitchell grew up surrounded by art. His parents are both successful architects and taught him to express himself creatively from an early age. He attended various art schools in San Francisco. Peter Kitchell grants his children the same freedom that he enjoyed and with similar results: His daughter, Sonya, is a renowned singer-songwriter and his son, Max, is making a name for himself as a photographer. His wife, Gayle Kabaker, is an illustrator and has repeatedly provided the cover for the renowned “New Yorker” magazine. Creative exchange within the family is essential for the Kitchell’s. Peter has organized exhibitions for his own children and the numerous journeys in the Sprinter provide everyone with space for inspiration.

Panoramic view of an arid landscape: the Freightliner Sprinter drives into the distance

Good art takes time

Your collages and installations express an individual and unmistakable imagery and color palette. How do you approach a project?

Before I start I work with a lot of different people from diverse fields. They range from architects to people from the administration to the people who actually work in the rooms in which I am allowed to create an installation. This input is often highly varied yet still clearly measurable.

How long do you work on a project?

Sometimes I need up to a year to process all of this diverse information and integrate it into my working process and then to get approval for my ideas before I actually implement and install the project itself.

My art is a window, a way past the walls and into freedom.

The Sprinter parked on a dry field

Peter Kitchell never documents his travels as social media posts. The analogue and the real distinguish him. Nevertheless, the artist is not opposed to new technologies. Rather, as a printing technician, photographer and painter he unites the opportunities of the digital world with true craftsmanship. With his collages, picture series and installations, Peter Kitchell transport the observer into an emotional world of images and colors.

How would you describe your art in a few sentences?

It is a window, a way past the walls and into freedom.

What inspires you?

A lot, such as music, for example: Jazz, classical music, bluegrass, blues, Latin music and more; European and American painting from 1880 to 1950, the pinnacle of painting. In terms of architecture, almost everything fascinates me from classics to modern architecture, from Zaha Hadid to Frank Gehry to Leoh Ming Pei, Marcel Breuer and many others.

The Sprinter provides comfort in the wilderness

What exactly did you hope to achieve by buying and converting your camper van?

I bought an off-roader in my younger years, restored it and then spent a year driving through Africa. So I knew exactly what I wanted and what I was getting into.

What exactly do you appreciate about the camper lifestyle?

Nature in its pure form is increasingly disappearing. The van is practical and comfortable and also offers me the opportunity to spend time outdoors where I can experience the weather and all of the different seasons to the fullest. With my van I can spend one or two months out in the wilderness, with everything this entails: cooking outdoors, not having a real toilet, travelling with a kayak, using the bed as an office and a place to sleep and many other things.

Can you tell us about the conversion?

I have a shop for woodworking and also design and build cupboards and display cases. That meant that I could do the majority of the conversion work myself. This let me use my own materials such as pine wood from land that I own. The van was in miserable condition in the beginning. In the end, I spent four months working on it full-time.

RELATED ARTICLE

Christopher Lehmpfuhl’s 4×4 Sprinter helps him as the connection between the idea and the work of art. The artist drives his  Sprinter 4×4  to the most unusual places and paints them – with his mere hands.

> Read more about the Spinter

Christopher Lehmpfuhl's white Sprinter on a mountain road

A perfect day in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

How much planning do your trips involve?

They involve a lot of planning. I generally “visit” the places I want to travel to virtually with Google Earth. This means that I have basically seen them before I have been there in person – this is a surreal experience.

 Take us on a journey with you: what is your perfect day with the van?

I spend a few hours driving through the Canadian Rocky Mountains and take photos at dawn. After a breakfast picnic, I spend the afternoon hiking and climbing. In the evening, I just drive until I find a place to camp. Then I have dinner sitting in the door of my camper van. I eat and take a look at the photos that I have taken. Later in the evening I go out on my kayak as the sun sets.

What tips would you give someone planning to go on a van journey?

The further out into nature the better. Spend a lot of time outside, let nature inspire you and lose yourself in it. Being scared occasionally is part of the experience. And after a few days you search and find your way back to the real road and a little civilization.

What do you search for on a trip, from an artistic perspective?

Unusual perspectives and untouched nature; for a sense of being happy and tired; for isolation and inspiration.

Freightliner has been a Daimler AG company since 1981 and sets standards in comfort and endurance on the North American market with its vans and trucks. Whether a star or Freightliner lettering, the promise is the same: reliable performance and uncompromising quality. Here are a few facts about the company from Portland, Oregon:

– The Trucks are renowned for their expressive front design with their long and angular nose. The most famous representative: the Christmas truck from Coca-Cola.

– The Freightliner Inspiration Truck was the first autonomously driving truck in 2015 that was allowed to drive on public roads in the United States.

– The Sprinter conquered Europe in 1995. Six years later, Freightliner brought the Sprinter to the USA. Since then, the Freightliner Sprinter has regularly integrated the new features from its twin brother from Mercedes-Benz. The latest addition was the Sprinter 4×4 in 2015.

Regardless of what job you have to tackle – the Sprinter will make your day-to-day tasks easier. And even if those tasks are weighty ones, together, you'll move mountains. Thanks to a host of different variants and over 600 optional features, the Sprinter can meet a wide variety of requirements.