The Landscape of Isolation
These works by Peter Day are landscape based and conceived. Pressing Peter further about the landscape one learns of extended trips through Lightning Ridge, Brewarrina, Broken Hill and the Hay Plains. That vast hinterland of metropolitan Sydney, the outback desert country of New South Wales is the key landscape that he is referring to in this exhibition. What fascinates the painter in Peter about this landscape is its minimalism. There is an apparent absence of topographical variety as the flat plains, which are vegetated with low-level scrub that continues to the horizon and infinity, inculcating a feeling of isolation. Off the ribbon of bitumen road nothing stirs. Only the fences and a dried cowpat suggest the presence of unseen others. In this landscape the vestiges and traces of activity are minimal and the present moment is devoid of any activity outside one’s own movements. The harshness alienates one, the primordial age makes one feel superfluous and the vastness enhances the isolation. On a visit to India Peter found that not surprisingly the landscape of Rajasthan, although very different, evoked the same intense feelings.
But his paintings are not of, nor do they depict, any specific landscape or location. Their specificity as paintings is their concern with the landscape of isolation. The feeling of country, isolation, connection to the land, spiritual, intangible landscape are all words and phrases that occur frequently in his musings on landscape. Also Peter talks of “people in isolation” and of “this isolation which calls like the sirens song for the detriment or betterment” which indicates the power and intensity of his reaction to this landscape. As a painter Peter considers himself to be absorbed by and absorbed in the landscape. The pictures are simply about dealing with country.
Logic dictates the manner in which Peter’s work progresses from the vastness of the landscape to the more specific stimuli of concerns with “a human event”, “relationships”,” occurrences” and how things relate to micro events in his life. These micro events include personal experiences, accurate and vague recollections, people’s actions, places of some understanding, disclosure and some fantasy. As opposed to the vast thought provoking physicality of the landscape, here we are faced with almost psychic phenomena of the insubstantial that are specific, precise and immediate. These are the stimulus and starting point for his activity as a painter. They are the crucial interaction between the painter and the world that involves the way he understands reality and are probably the reason that he paints or creates at all. They are his stimuli, his inspiration, and his muse. For Peter discussion of his paintings invariably starts around this area. For the event predicates the picture. Yet despite their importance in the creation of the work they are not important as an explanation of the work. For a viewer to be privy to a specific event that a painting was based on is not a help in understanding the work. Meaning lies elsewhere. Meaning lies within the painting itself.
The next step in the crystallisation of influences is the process of making of the work. This is the most exhilarating and perilous part of the entire process. It is very contemporary, technological and varied. With the landscape as a background Peter works with the event, which he progresses through various processes of the computer program. This computer generated image is printed onto paper. These images typically consist of broad flat areas, which are coloured and toned, and correspond most closely to the event. The computer is used for the speed with which various possibilities can be explored, speculated upon and modified. For this laying of the ground is a preliminary to the final process that is more involved with the human hand and mind. The events can best be expressed visually and through the acquired skill of a practice extending over thirty years. The marks that are then applied are not only gestural, but vehicles for colour. And it is here that Peter’s works come alive for he is a painter who revels in studio practice. Whatever has gone before is important but it is here the painter really starts to think like a painter and work towards what Peter calls the “resolution of the picture”
Peter’s forte and passion is mark making. Marks are made with crayons, pastels, coloured pencils and acrylic inks, indeed anything that will make a mark. They are much more than marks, where all meaning lies in the interest and excitement of a spontaneous gesture. Rather their spontaneity is more directed and more descriptive in the process to achieve a resolution of that complex coming together of event, landscape and picture. The decision to make a mark is preceded by a judgment. Any influence of the intuitive rapidity of Abstract Expressionism with the connotations of bodily memory, has long since been internalised and given new valances and meanings. The lines that overlay the colour fields or computer generated ground are rather like a flurry of movement in an isolated spot, happening in that landscape but distinct from it. The landscape or ground acts as a scene, a physical place, where it is possible for the event to occur. In another environment this specific event would not occur at all.
The mark making materials are used to create a feeling of ephemera of and in the landscape. It could be the swirl of the heat in the dry air or the rustle of the wind as it passes through the trees. Equally it could be the focus of the mind on a relevant concern. Isolation is the theatre that makes possible the events and clarifies the fascination it has for the painter, for it is here that things are crystallised into paintings. But whatever it is, the representation is clear. For these are not paintings which reveal more about the search to find the image than anything else. The paintings have been meditatively executed with the clarity that comes from confidence, surety of expression and intention.
The rich and gemlike colours of these paintings dance in and out of the surface to give the event its body space and opportunity to move in the isolation. Although attractive these marks are structured and their spontaneity is subservient to the colour. The surface is explored until there is what Peter calls a “gut reaction to the depiction of the experience”, and then it is considered finished. They are the more personal bstract side of the realistic, less personal and urban public art works that Peter is so well known for.
There is one other component that should be mentioned because it reflects an attitude that is extremely important in Peter’s work. That is when the works are printed on the special printer; they are printed on archival paper with pigment based archival inks. Their longevity is guaranteed. The modern process and the speed of execution have in no way affected his integrity as neither a painter nor his well-documented craftsmanship on which the success of his public art career is built.
Dr. Barry Gazzard – Sydney February 2003