A Long Stick Exhibition – UTS Gallery, University of Technology Sydney, July 28 – August 28 1998

A Tribute to Three Arthurs

An exhibition about balance and influence in the paintings, prints and installations by Peter Day

“Painters are not neccessarily in revolt against the methods of previous masters, as critics would have us believe; the differences are often a shift of emphasis.”

John Olsen; Drawing from Life, 1997

It is not unusual to find developments and new directions in artist’s work coinciding with changes in the fabric and experience of their personal and professional life and this has undoubtedly been the case with Day’s latest body of work. A Long Stick has developed from two previous exhibitions by Peter Day shown earlier this year at BDAS Gallery, Bowral and the Project Centre for Contemporary Art in Wollongong.

Day’s marriage and subsequent honeymoon at Riversdale, one of four properties within Arthur Boyd’s Bundanon, caused a shift in the way Day sees and interprets the world. renowned as an urban mural painter, and in fact responsible for some of the world’s largest murals situated in Sydney, New York and Mexico, it is interesting to consider the diversity of scale in Day’s recent work as a consequence of his latest investigations and research.

A Long Stickis also very much about Day’s own history, which is demonstrably intertwined with, as Day describes it, “three Arthurs”. Arthur Murch was Day’s painting master in the 1970s and it is from him that Day borrows a high key palette and formal compositional structure for his work. In contrast , Arthur’s Boyd’s spontaneous approach to subject matter and his direct application of paint , plus an ability to capture the unique colours and light of the Australian landcape, has also played it’s part in the evolutin of Day’s particular painting style. The third Arthur is Day’s own father, Noel Arthur Day, who has had a profound and lasting influence on his life. Day is not shy or apologetic about these influences and is in fact keen to display the sources of his artistic practice and personal ethic. He acknowledges that our genealogy is what connects us to society, and likewise, our artistic forbears have importance and should be acknowledged.

This exhibition is about the balance and influence of these three Arthurs on his work. Like a tight rope walker Day travels a fine line trying to steady the forces of art history, traditional techniques and contemporary technologies. He describes the sensation of “standing on the shoulders of these three giants and needing a bloody long stick to maintain your balance.”

Day is quite passionate about Bundanon and the importance of Boyd’s legacy to Australia. Situatedon the Shoalhaven River near Nowra in New South Wales, the historic thousand hectare property has not only been a constant source of inspiration and reflection for artists, but it is now an important environmental asset for all Australians. in this way Day sees the heritage value of Bundanon reflected in his own work.

Day is quite passionate about Bundanon and the importance of Boyd’s legacy to Australia. Situatedon the Shoalhaven River near Nowra in New South Wales, the historic thousand hectare property has not only been a constant source of inspiration and reflection for artists, but it is now an important environmental asset for all Australians. in this way Day sees the heritage value of Bundanon reflected in his own work.

An unusual development in this body of work is the deliberate intrusion of the man-made elements into this natural world. Silhouettes of domestic objects overlay the landscapes, dominating the image. These items comprise cups, plates, cutlery and food, the ordinary things in life which signify the simple enjoyment found in every day activities. Day also seeks in these works a deeper assimilation between the earth, the natural environment and his own place within its order, where all things are related. The colours are more pastel than in earlier studies, and the burshstrokes longer and more lyrical giving the landscape an airy, whimsical feel, with the transparent lighter-than-air ojects floating across it.

In the larger paintings undertaken as a development from the residency,personal symbols begin to appear within the landscapes. Paint sticks and feathers materialise as a result of Day’s exploration of small detail noticed within the broad vista. These paint stirring sticks are also a metaphor and analogy for what man does to the natural landscape: smoothing, filling, decorating (the processes) by which the sticks are made); these changes are inflicted and make the landscape how we want it to be – not how it naturally is!

Day describes the feeling of standing in the Bundanon world looking down at the ground and slowly sweeping upwards in an arc through the middle distance to the tree canopy and sky beyond. For Day, this sweep of vision emphasises the small detail and the randomness of objects, colours and forms that catch his attention. hence the appearance of items like feathers juxtaposed with small indiscernible squiggles of colour that have quickly come into view. In Hand tool hill there is a distinct difference in the closely worked paint surface and treatment of detail at the foot of the painting, compared with the blocked forms of colour representing the epansive far distance. There is a clear transition between the tonality, colour and detail as the eye glides upwards through the painting, with a gentle circular rhythm generated by the dashes of colourful brushwork.

It would be an oversight not to mention some beautifully rendered small etchings Day undertook on site at Bundanon, plus some hand-coloured memories made later in the studio. There is a freshness in the drawing, appearing velvety and rich in the prints that give another dimension to Day’s homage to Boyd in this setting.

The old processes of etching have also been explored and ‘modernised’ by Day in this exhibition. His larged titled etching Please, please me, uses digital imagery and photography, where the accidental marks become design elements. his ‘frescos’ are developed on modern f/c sheet rather than the traditional wet plaster walls. He is constantly manipulating his ideas and images with the aid of a computer to achieve the desired effect. The development of the image continues when he works back into the surface, tinkering on the edges until that magical ‘gut feeling’ demands he cease.

A Long Stick also includes a number of large installation pieces resulting from both his Bundanon experiences and from more recent developments in his art practice. This exhibition, showing at the UTS Gallery in Sydney, reflects not only Day’s over-riding homage to his “three authors”, but his exploration of art history and the combination and manipulation of traditional techniques with contemporary technologies.

Amanda Bell

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