Award Winners: Peter Gardiner - Art Collector

Issue 79, January - March 2017

This profile appeared in the "Award Winners" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2017".

Peter Gardiner’s paintings of the Australian bush are reminiscent of the opening film sequence of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Beneath the lush, meticulously detailed surface, there is something dark.

Gardiner’s work exudes a sense of mystery, romance and an unsettling hint of something sinister. His recent painting,
Origin – Landscape (2016) is no exception. The 2016 winner of Newcastle Art Gallery’s annual $50,000 Kilgour Prize for outstanding figurative and portrait painting, Origin - Landscape pays tribute to Australian colonial art and historical portrayals of the female nude, particularly Gustave Courbet’s famed 1866 work, L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World).

In Gardiner’s
Origin – Landscape, slivers of light push through a dense tangle of trees, scrub and leaf litter. Unlike Courbet’s nude which takes up the whole canvas, Gardiner’s figure is almost consumed by the bushland that surrounds her. Reminiscent of late Australian painter Frederick McCubbin’s lone figures submerged in the Australian wilderness, Gardiner’s handling of light and atmosphere is masterful.

While he can be considered a landscape painter, it is not the wide-open spaces Gardiner depicts. Instead, he takes a tight focus, choosing to portray detailed areas of untamed bushland. For Gardiner, the bush is like a character we immerse ourselves in. “Like a David Lynch movie, it is full of dark spaces and low subsonic hums and rumbles,” he says. “The bush is like a psychological interior where wildness and paranoia roam, but also where ecstatic visions and peace can be found. I can’t help but feel I am swallowed by it, like the girls in
Picnic at Hanging Rock.”

Judged by a professional panel, which included AGNSW curator Deborah Edwards, Gardiner’s Kilgour Prize winning work was selected from a group of 35 finalists. The Kilgour Prize adds to Gardiner’s previous awards, the Calleen Art Award (2011), Muswellbrook Art Prize (2009) and the Maitland Art Prize (2003).

Briony Downes

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