Waterholes, Dams, Banks & Shores
New pictures which inhabit the plight of the waterless west -Marianne Newman Gallery 2007
This new crop of work, heralded in the DAY-Survey show at Marianne Newman Gallery October 2006, grew out of the arid outback landscapes of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Peter’s preoccupation with waterless and peopleless spaces was conceived in his ‘long country’ driving between community art projects and gestated for many years in the fertile soil of suburbia. The trips to India brought on the birth of these dry (and some not so dry) pictures.
The waterlessness and isolation of the real outback when equated with the comparatively populous rural environment of Central West New South Wales (that has little more water than the outback) yields some very sad social and economic results. The issue crystallised for the artist early in 2000’s when standing on the bridge over the Darling River at Wilcannia.
Day equated the conspicuous miserable and abject poverty there with the waterlessness. Wilcannia had been one of the most prosperous ‘port’ towns of NSW. Water really has been a big issue for many years but until recently has gone unnoticed by governments. The City of Bourke, which is also on the Darling River, is now another casualty. It wasn’t (or at least look like it) in 2002. And ironically Day felt drawn to the ‘beauty’ of the trickle contrasted with the steep parched banks of the river. Day depicts this cruel paradox as a reflection of the land and the sky, in the water. The whole issue of water is now ubiquitous and not unique in Australian art of the early 21st Century.However, Day has been looking/working at this issue since the late 1990s and has developed in his intensely personal manner, a substantial body of work, which is built on his previous styles.
He has continued utilising his magic mineral silicate paint, which is the most effective in natural sunlight. These paints are made from refined ground up earth – inorganic chemistry. These works, technically speaking are frescos on paper. Day sometimes uses real earth from his outback haunts in the secret ‘ground’ bound to the paper. In his habitual, repetitive and one could say almost ‘obsessive’ mark making there is another dimension to these simply composed pictures. Which refer back to Day’s sparse, minimal abstracts, which emanated from his trip to Europe in the late 70’s. These muted and restrained works were speculative and almost tentative meditations on the nature of ‘being’ …early in ones career. One could say meditation by mark making.
The ‘Waterholes, Dams, Banks and Shores’ pictures are also editations on being but now …in the middle of the career and in Days ‘own’ words (paraphrasing Rumi, the Persian 13th century poet) …it’s about ‘the wheat doesn’t know the bread’. As an environmental balance, (because Day is just as fascinated with water as with its absence) there are works which celebrate the joy of abundant water, fresh, clean gently flowing rivers and of course, the sea.
One feels that Peter Day is also referencing Mark Rothko’s haunting and yet lyrical works, which not only deal with the formal aspects of mark and picture making but the possibly futile quest for knowing the unknowable. So in these watery, and not so watery works (the soup that gave life) Day is again speculating on the origin and future of both the body and the soul.
Marianne Newman, 2007