Peter Day

Gallery Lane Cove hosts a survey show of painting and sculpture that may defy the expectations of those who are familiar with Peter Day’s public art. Both visually and thematically, the works here show the artist in new and distinct territory. Departing from the urban interventions of his murals and large sculptural installations, the small bronze castings and Modernist-inflected paintings in this show are more concerned with documenting natural landscapes – especially coastal and desert biomes in Australia. Here, an interesting tension emerges between nature and artifice.

In the sculptures, Day takes everyday objects – often domestic items like cups, mugs, or sections of pipe – and casts them in bronze. The move elevates the status of the objects form ordinary to noteworthy. Indeed, much of the interest lies in the tension between the utter mundanity of the objects, and the sense of anachronistic reverence we are cued to feel towards the medium in which they’re presented to us. We see the objects that surround us every day here, but are asked to respond to them very differently – not only because of the material they’re made of, but by the context in which we meet them. It might be tempting to read symbolic significance into the cups trimmed with barbed wire around the lip, for instance, but the more compelling reading of these objects attends to the disparity between the objects the sculptures represent, and the status these objects acquire in their sculptural instantiation.

The paintings in the show, most of which date from the last decade, gently abstract the landscapes of sea and sand in which Day is so invested — intellectually, and, it seems, emotionally. Observing the coast and the interior of the country, the paintings attend to the colour and light of their environments with a pervasive sense of joy and interest. However, there’s also a contrast here between the ‘natural’ subject of the painting, and the ‘technological’ apparatus of the artist’s painting process. Indeed, Day’s method of painting in these more recent works has come to incorporate technology more and more, as he works with computer-generated fractal shapes, rather than free-handed expressive mark-making. Pixelated landscapes seem to buzz and pulse with an electric energy, splintering into irregular shapes that distil the terrain into tone and colour.

The question of the relationship between the natural and the artificial (or technological) seems an appropriate one with which to grapple using the Modernist aesthetic that Day takes up. Indeed, it is an old question, albeit one with new and more pressing inflections now that we’re in the Anthropocene, and on the brink of climate crisis. It’s most challenging to think, in this context, about where the term ‘artist’ sits within the binary of art and nature. Indeed, the show begs the question: to which category, natural or technological, do we humans best belong?

BeacheSANDeserts: Meditations on the Margins
3 – 27 July 2019
Gallery Lane Cove, Sydney

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