b. 1963, Murrurundi
Lives and works in Melbourne
'Atkins does not intend to exaggerate the importance of an object, sign or symbol, instead he sets out to invest it with a new or altered meaning, in the process divesting (although never denying) it of its heritage. Like David Lynch’s cinematic vignettes of the small and banal, or Raymond Carvers vivid narrations of everyday feelings and occurrences. Atkins illuminates the extraordinary in the ordinary, quietly reassessing the familiar in order to endow it with the capacity for fresh understanding and renewed significance.’
- Felicity Fenner
Peter Atkins is a leading Australian contemporary artist and an important representative of Australian art in the International arena. Over the past twenty five years he has exhibited in Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Mexico. He has been described as 'a cultural nomad' by the former director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Daniel Thomas, 'an obsessive psychological wanderer' by curator Simeon Kronenberg, 'a visual anthropologist' by the director of Fleisher/Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia, Alex Baker, 'a visual terrorist' by Spanish Curator and arts writer Paco Barragan and 'a hyper-caffeinated bowerbird' by arts writer Ashley Crawford.
Atkins’ practice centers around the appropriation and re-interpretation of readymade abstract forms that he documents within the urban environment. This collected material becomes the direct reference source for his work, providing tangible evidence to the viewer of his relationship and experience within the landscape. Particular interest is paid to the cultural associations of forms that have the capacity to trigger within the viewer, memory, nostalgia or a shared history of past experiences. Recent projects including 'Disney Color Project', 'Hume Highway Project', ‘Station to Station’ and ‘Polaroid Project’ evoke within the viewer our collective, cultural recall. Over the past decade he has used the term 'readymade abstraction' to describe his practice. A term he coined to define the space between non-objective abstraction and representation. Peter states that ‘My work could be described as an amalgamation of Modernisms attention to process and materials, Pop Arts re-contextualization of mundane mass cultural objects, Minimalisms desire to achieve simplicity through the elimination of all non essential features and Post Modernisms re-examination, appropriation and deconstruction of all that has gone before. These amorphous boundaries are a calculated attempt to blur the distinction between High Art, Low Art and popular culture.’
His work is represented in the collections of every major Australian State Gallery including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the Art Gallery of N.S.W., Sydney, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as prominent Institutional, Corporate and Private collections both Nationally and Internationally. In 2010 his solo exhibition for Tolarno Galleries at the Melbourne Art Fair titled Hume Highway Project was purchased in its entirety for The Lyon Collection in Melbourne.
ARTIST STATEMENT -
GAGPROJECTS is excited to present PETER ATKINS’ sixth solo exhibition in our gallery with IN STEREO. Peter Atkins is a prominent Australian artist who has exhibited extensively throughout Australia and internationally over the last thirty years.
‘Atkins describes his practice as ’readymade abstraction’. Appropriating designs drawn from sources as diverse as product packaging, highway road signage and mid-twentieth century jazz album covers, he pares back extraneous details – typically removing text and any representational imagery – and reduces it to an abstract composition in which line, form and colour exist in a finely calibrated visual harmony.’
- Kirsty Grant, 2015, ‘Chaos and Order’ SCAPE8, catalogue essay.
Peter Atkins is a graduate of the National Art School, Sydney (1985), he currently lives and works in Melbourne. Atkins has been included in several major exhibitions including: SCAPE8 Biennale, Christchurch (2015); Melbourne Now, NGV, Melbourne (2014); Contemporary Encounters, NGV (2010); and Clemenger Contemporary Art Award, NGV (2009).
His work is represented in the collections of every major Australian state gallery including National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and various institutional, corporate and private collections both nationally and internationally.
ARTIST NOTES -
It seems contrary to write a catalogue essay about an exhibition titled Silence — for this exhibition is a plea for quiet, for the removal of unnecessary visual noise. Erasure, a visual affiliate of silence, has long been a preoccupation for Peter Atkins. The starting point for his work is an encounter with an object which he then alters by removing extraneous text and visual details. It is a form of deconstruction, where the final object reveals what the artist describes as the “essential abstract elements”. The newly conceived artwork signifies something inherent to the original whilst creating a distance between the viewer and the object’s prior status as a commodity. There is often an experience of the object as something recognisable, but impossible to locate. In practice, Atkins has devised a method where the existing (but largely unconscious) collective appreciation for abstract patterning comes alive. Atkins offers an unexpected avenue for the interpretation of these found compositions.
The exhibition is based on a series of record covers, united by subtle but distinctive graphic devices. The isolated forms are mostly lines; their original purpose was to frame, underline or divide the names of headline acts. Through a merciless process of blocking, Atkins has reworked the original albums, highlighting these idiosyncratic linear forms. The collages are cut and pasted with black cardboard taken from other record covers so that the final image is a luscious patchwork of blacks. These deconstructions reveal startlingly new minimal compositions.
The paintings are smooth and pitch black, verging on monochromatic, with flickers of bright yellow, pink or white. They appear in stark contrast to the original covers; a garish photo of Liberace; a syrupy portrait of Cleo Lane; a bizarre assortment of lips upon microphones. The lines appear like neon lighting on the black backdrops. They are surprisingly resonant. In one instance, white and pink lines on the cover of the Romeo and Juliet album assume a symbolic association with the story. Elsewhere, a curved corner shape on a Bee Gees cover is redolent of the disco era. Susan Sontag reminds us in her essay “The Aesthetics of Silence”
Perhaps the quality of the attention we bring to bear on something will be better (less contaminated, less distracted) the less we are offered...purged by silence, one might then be able to begin to transcend the frustrating selectivity of attention, with its inevitable distortions of experience.1
For people accustomed to noise, this idea of pure silence is practically inconceivable. At one point during the visit to Peter at his studio, there was a monumental shattering of glass bottles, presumably the spoils from the nearby pub. I flinched, but Peter hadn’t even registered the noise. “I didn’t even hear that”, he said, describing the extent of the ambient noise pollution in his neighbourhood. No wonder then, that the records from these sleeves go straight to the bin.
Through this narrative of transformation – from album covers to paintings, the final works convey a comparative idea of silence. More broadly, they speak of a kind of quietude or modesty. These compositions are undoubtedly the artist’s most minimal to date.
PAINTING AND DRAWING
ARTIST NOTES -
A common denominator connecting these paintings is an investigation into readymade abstract forms appropriated from the real world. The collected/found reference material is exhibited alongside the paintings providing tangible evidence of my interaction within the landscape. It also helps mark a clear distinction within my work between what is abstract and what is not, defining an area that exists between the lines of abstraction and figuration. This has been an integral part of my practice over the past 25 years. The eclectic group of forms from this exhibition include incidental or more prosaic examples of ephemera: A discarded postcard, a lolly wrapper, a matchbox, a petrol pump, a cinema listing and a book titled ‘Painting and Drawing’ salvaged from a secondhand store. What I am trying to do is express my experience in the landscape; what I am seeing, what I am attracted to, what I find fascinating or beautiful at a particular time.
PROJECT NOTES -
When beginning a project I often set myself locality ‘boundaries’ which vary from just a few streets around my studio to entire suburbs, and recently with the L.A. Project, whole cities. The work becomes a documentation of time and place, a unique reference to when and where it was made. This connection to place and the recording of personal experience as I navigate within defined borders has always been at the core of my practice. Although the trajectory of my practice over the past 5 years now sees a focus primarily on painting, the core tenets of my interests are still evident in the collection and documentation of found material used as reference for my paintings.
I recently discovered the French term ‘Flaneur’ described in the early 19th century by the writer Charles Baudelaire as – ‘a person who walks the city in order to experience it’. Over the years the idea of the Flaneur has accumulated significant meaning as a referent for understanding urban phenomena and modernity.
Baudelaire saw the Flaneur as having a key role in understanding, participating and portraying the city. A Flaneur thus displayed a double role in city life and in theory, that is, while remaining a detached observer. This stance, simultaneously part and apart from, combines sociological, anthropological, literary and historical notions of the relationship between the individual and the greater populace. Baudelaire asserted that social changes brought by industrialization demanded that the artist immerse himself in the metropolis and become, “a botanist of the sidewalk”…. a man of the people who enters into the life of his subjects with passion.*
The conceptual premise of my practice is underpinned by the appropriation and reinterpretation of readymade abstract designs that exist in the urban environment. Stripped from their original context these elements are elevated from their often prosaic or mundane states and become a celebration of the overlooked. Elements as diverse as street signage, outdoor advertising, product packaging, book and record covers, store packaging, patterns on trucks and the angular designs from the sides of caravans. I consider anything and everything as possible reference for my work as I navigate the landscape.
I am interested in how people perceive the things around them, how often the simplest and most beautiful things go unnoticed. What attracts me to certain types of forms and designs beyond their abstract potential is their ‘commonness’ and the seemingly invisibility to most people. I am attempting to re-present these things back to the viewer as new way of looking at abstraction which sits somewhere between high and low art. A language of form stripped from popular culture without hierarchy that can be enjoyed and understood by all audiences.
EXHIBITION TEXT -
This new series of work titled ‘readymade abstraction’ sees a return, after a decade, to the use of tarpaulins as the support for my paintings. The shift that has occurred also sees a less painterly approach to the work leaving instead the untouched tarpaulin to act as the ‘ground’ for my painted floating forms. What attracts me most about these used tarpaulins is the encoded history, built up over time, sometimes years, of a narrative that is literally embedded in the surface of the material. The stains, creases, faded canvas and repaired seams and tears, impossible to fabricate, become remnant reminders of lives lived and journeys undertaken.
Existing narratives in found material are an important aspect of my practice and have always been paramount in my smaller journal works which are predominantly constructed using collected material, often picked up straight from the street .The local Brotherhood of Saint Laurence store and Council throw out days also provide some rewarding finds. Children’s drawings, letters, old chairs, stained mattresses, photo’s, and books are some of the unwanted, discarded material chosen because they are laden with multi-layered and complex human histories. Found, saved and revealed. The works become records of personal and shared experiences as I navigate through my environment. My interest lies in the human connectedness of the material and the commonality of shared histories.
This mapping of collected material through a personal interaction within the landscape is also prominent in my painting practice. The collected forms are the inspiration and the reference point to the completed paintings. I am fascinated by the idea of abstract elements and patterns that exist, often in prosaic form, within the landscape, particularly my local landscape, around Brunswick in Melbourne. Street and shop signs, sale signs, window forms, patterns on trucks, buses and caravans, book jackets and record covers, architectural elements, and shadow forms are some of the incidental abstract moments that surround me every time I step out of the door.
Some years ago I took my young son on a visit to Disneyland in Los Angeles. We caught the local bus from downtown out to Anaheim, a journey of over 3 hours. During the bus-trip I became aware of the stunning signage and various roadside forms that marked our journey as we made our way through the L.A. landscape to meet Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck. I began sketching a series of abstract elements on the back of my Disneyland tourist map. A concept began to develop relating to the forms that marked this journey, as seen from the bus window. Looking back this became a pivotal moment in my painting practice. The memory of my experience of seeing these forms has since developed into this new body of work. It is a flexible system of abstract painting that allows me the possibility to relate to what I am seeing and experiencing in the landscape.
In essence each work is unique, referencing directly to the chosen form. It’s a transportable system which allows me the ability to relate my experiences of things seen within specific locales. A language of form as unique to Brunswick as it would be to L.A. or anywhere else. I remember hearing the American artist Richard Tuttle say of his work that it was “as close to being invisible as possible”. This has always resonated with me because much of what I paint makes up the overlooked, barely noticed moments in our day. The unseen. Those elements which operate on a lower frequency, a band of colour that circles the edge of a shop-front window, the strange (but beautiful) form sliding in through the top of a Barry Crocker cassette cover or the fleeting vision of a stripy pattern on the side of a truck passing down Sydney Road. These are the incidental, quiet moments of readymade abstraction that invigorate and inform my practice.