Australia, 1945 - 2013

Dusk, blue and brown, 1985
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
107.0 x 170.0 cm
Inscribed on reverse: John Peart / DUSK / BLUE / & BROWN / 1985

John Peart, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 4 - 21 September 1985, catalogue no. 3.

In 1967 Two decades of American painting an exhibition curated by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was shown at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Figurative paintings by artists such as Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, and abstractions by Josef Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, and Morris Louis, astounded the Australian audience unfamiliar with contemporary American art. Apart from confronting imagery and total abstraction, the huge scale of some paintings was new to many people, including many young artists. John Peart, and many other young artists saw a future in which the size and the subject of their work was unrestricted.

Having moved from Brisbane to Sydney in 1964, Peart, exhibited at Watters Gallery the following year, and continued to do so for his entire career.  Peart’s painting was noticed early and was included in the New generation exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and Design of Australia in Melbourne in the same year. However, it was Peart’s inclusion in The Field exhibition, marking the opening of the National Gallery of Victoria in August 1968, that ensured him a place in the history of Australian art. Curated to show the work of Australia’s young contemporary artists, paintings and sculpture in The Field demonstrated that the new generation of artists had reacted to the American paintings they had seen the year before. For the first time an Australian art gallery had curated an exhibition of contemporary Australian art, much of which was abstract and big. The paintings included were not meant to hang above a sofa, but to make bold statements about what art was and could be in a contemporary environment.

Peart’s two paintings in The Field, Cool corner II, 1968 and Corner square diagonal, 1968, were large. One was a shaped canvas, and both, painted with subtle changing colour, were described as minimalist. They challenged their viewers and were excellent examples of the kind of art which drew the comment, ‘But there is nothing there!’ At a time when abstraction, especially minimalist and colourfield painting was new to the public, Peart’s work was among the most confrontational. In retrospect the title of Cool corner suggests that from early in his career Peart was aware of the power of colour to suggest physical experiences and aspects of the landscape.

Remaining devoted to abstraction throughout his career, Peart’s later paintings showed a more complex and sophisticated understanding of abstraction. Gradually the surfaces were broken-up or disturbed by a highly personal repertoire of abstract motifs. Colour was an increasingly significant aspect of paintings that possessed a jewel-like quality. Large, sometimes very large, and small, paintings demand much of the viewer, close-up and at a distance. Colours, shapes, and occasionally titles, give an indication of what it was that inspired a painting. The later twentieth century paintings, such as Dusk, blue and brown, 1985, a carefully titled work, excellently demonstrates this aspect of his work. The title, the colours, the softness, the indistinct shapes, and a surface that almost shimmers, all contribute to helping us experience a dusk that Peart captures with great care.

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