Peter Alwast: Virtual materiality - Art Collector

Issue 64, April - June 2013

Peter Alwast’s work functions as landscapes that describe time itself, according to Alison Kubler.

Peter Alwast, Collage Three, 2011. Archival giclée print on watercolour paper, 85 x 125cm. Courtesy: the artist and Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane

Peter Alwast’s practice presents a conundrum. That is, what is it exactly and what are its frames of reference? Not specifically photography and not new media (except when it often is), what it is is a mélange of painting and drawing mediated via new technologies. Phew. The artist describes his work as a “conceptual practice that employs a range of media including video, computer graphics, painting and drawing.” His video works, performances and drawings so specifically explore methods of representation and force one to consider the sometimes contradictory relationship between mediums.

On the surface his work is all slick effortlessness that belies its labour intensive creation. Alwast explains his process thus; “I photograph my original paintings and drawings and compose them into virtual scenes using 3D software. The compositions are then printed onto canvas/paper and drawn into again, thus combining the virtual with the tactile, abstraction and representation. The works create a dual sense of time: one, which is suspended through the photographic moment, and one which evolves through mark making on surfaces. In exhibitions I often place the original drawings and paintings alongside the printed works, so that the viewer will have a direct and physical experience of the paintings as well as a virtual re-presentation of what they have seen moments before.” The overall effect is of a kind of real time déjà vu. The resultant images evoke virtual realms, suggesting the inner workings of devices, computer cables for example, melding abstraction and realism. They function as figurative works or ‘landscapes’ that attempt to describe time itself - suspended, contracted or abstracted.

Brisbane dealer Ryan Renshaw describes the artist as “an illusionist. Alwast makes the virtual into something it simply cannot be:
tactile”, through the act of drawing, cutting and painting back into and onto the digital surface. Alwast’s most recent work has focused on what he describes as the ‘tangible signs of process and materiality.” Entitled variously, Collage (in numbered iterations), Something Instead of Nothing, or Message the large-scale Giclée prints are imbued with luminous colour, shiny surfaces, fluid lines and suspended dynamism, offering an elegant explication of these complex concepts. The work is deeply aesthetic yet restrained.

Alwast’s work particularly speaks to collectors grappling with collecting ‘new’ media, that amorphous term for a genre at times confounding in its complexity: how to store it or how to show it especially in light of technology’s unrelenting tendency to supersede and upgrade itself. Yet Alwast does not consider himself a new media artist. “I work across new media because I use 3D animation with video. I wouldn’t call video new media though. And I also use it with painting and drawing. I try to use traditional and contemporary media in combination, to create a dialogue between them, but also I am interested in the way these mediums can provided experiences particular to their form, which say something about a densely layered world, both direct and mediated. I think our experience of the world is never through the lens of one medium or media.”

Well known in Queensland Alwast is developing a significant national profile. An Honours graduate from Queensland University of Technology he completed his Masters of Fine Art at Parsons in New York in 2001. In 2008 he won the prestigious, now sadly defunct, Premier’s New Media Award through Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art, for
Everything, a three channel work imbued with a painterly approach to new media. Shortly after that successful homecoming Alwast took up the Australia Council Greene Street Studio Residency in New York, cap- italising on his studies there. He says “New York is an important place for me for personal reasons; I studied and lived there for almost four years so I feel a strong connection to it and need to go back regularly.”

Now based on the South Coast of New South Wales, he is working towards solo exhibitions in 2013 at Gallery9 in Sydney and Ryan Renshaw Gallery in Brisbane, before taking up an Asialink residency in Hong Kong. At once one thing and then another, it is this tension or flux surrounding what the work is and isn’t that the artist enjoys, and that collectors and curators are increasingly drawn to.

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