Works on Paper 2010 Exhibition
Mixed media on paper
Catalogue essay by David Eastwood, 2010
Peter Nelson’s figure/ground compositions pit signs of urbanisation and nature against each other in an uneasy relationship. His motifs are deployed as remnants of the present day: of the here and now but distant and removed.
The negative space in these works on paper, often articulated by fields of nuanced colour or geometric pattern, is as important as the figurative elements. To use a cliché of music criticism, it’s the notes he doesn’t play that characterises his work as much as anything. These voids impose a sense of isolation and loss, as though we are witnessing an aftermath, but they also provide a quality of visual rest. Quiet and disquiet coexist.
Peter’s recent studio activity has seen the introduction of a sculptural dimension to his practice. Cardboard constructions reminiscent of mountains complement his paintings and drawings. These austere monuments are part architectural monolith, part geographical form. Composed of a series of geometric planes, it is a wonky geometry that betrays a quality of organic growth through the artist’s intuitive process of construction. One can also recognise the influence of a recent study tour of China, where he devoted particular attention to the rocky peaks of the Hunan Province.
Much recent landscape art concerns itself not with mimetic representations of place, but with hypothetical scenarios informed by contemporary attitudes. I refer here to landscape as a stage upon which we might find nightmarish visions of socio-political turmoil and environmental destruction, or neo-romantic yearning for utopian ideals. Peter’s work follows this departure from the will to record appearances. While direct observation through sketches and photographs taken in situ informs his imagery, this is but one step in the artist’s protracted translation of the space around him. His composite images offer a sense of possibility and potentiality: there is a fluidity and uncertainty to the relationships between the forms that he chooses to represent.
It is unclear whether Peter Nelson’s mute props stripped of human presence are portents of an impending event, or indexical signs of a bygone age. But as models of a world that is both familiar and alien, these works evince a desire to make sense of the relationship between the space we inhabit and an ideal of nature we admire from afar.
Flinders Street Gallery