Peter Daverington: The bewildering spectacle - Art Collector

Issue 70, October - December 2014

Peter Daverington adeptly makes use of a wide range of pictorial languages in his art. For him, it’s like looking at life from multiple viewpoints simultaneously and capturing the way being human and life itself is a natural struggle between viewpoints, opinions and perspectives. He talks to Phip Murray.
Peter Daverington, photographed for Art Collector Issue 70, October - December 2014. Photo: Jason Wyche.

Peter Daverington’s latest paintings are large-scale canvases filled edge-to-edge with spectacular compositions that seamlessly integrate what should be clashing styles. In some, fantastical buildings painted in a popping bubble gum pink are set amongst architectural shards covered in striking geometric patterns reminiscent of hard-edged abstraction. Other works depict an idiosyncratic melange of figures – in one, pudgy putti, a giant squid and a howling wolf jostle together in a terrifically dynamic configuration. The compositions are set against lyrical landscapes redolent of the romantic tradition, and all are painted in Daverington’s finely detailed and highly proficient technique, evidencing a deft ability to move easily across artistic styles.

This interlocking of styles and ideas is an ongoing preoccupation for the artist: “Mixing styles and techniques interests me,” he states, “because it is like looking at life from multiple viewpoints simultaneously – whether different points in history, different cultures, different perspectives and so on. I like the stark contrasts of life, the very natural struggle between viewpoints and opinions. The only way I can express this is by trying to compress a wide range of pictorial languages to capture the bewildering spectacles of being human and of life itself.”

Pictorial space and its illusory potential have always lured him: “I was drawing every day as a child, it’s what I loved to do,” he states. “My father taught me to shade with a pencil and draw perspective. Ever since I have been tirelessly fascinated by illusionistic space and three-dimensional depth. It’s a simple pleasure that never abandoned me. I then became a graffiti artist when I was eleven and developed a lot of technique from using the spray can. Bright colour and fading are elements I have carried through in my work. I taught myself to use oil paints, they are so difficult and elusive, but that’s what I love about them.”

Daverington combines this love of image-making with a broad and deep knowledge of art history. Casting an eye across his canvases, the viewer sees a startling array of art-historical lineages, which tumble together in nuanced and often surprising ways: “I am interested in a kind of severe juxtaposition of visual languages,” he states. “My compositions rely on this tension between hard-edge geometric line work and representational painting. I am primarily concerned with a pictorial space that was invented through the history of painting.”

Yet this interest in the different logics of pictorial space that have developed over centuries of art history is combined with a persistent interest in the contemporary: “The evolution of art and its gradual development in representing three-dimensional space is a fascination of mine, which I study endlessly. I am, however, interested in trying to make paintings that are truly of the 21st century, yet also reach a long way back into the past.” The logic of the digital age, with its endless recombination of images, is also embedded in his work: “The computer is so unique to our own time that I feel it cannot be ignored in my work. The digital world we live in is so complex as a result of an endless stream of information available to us that I believe complexity is the logical way forward for me. By compressing a vast amount of imagery, styles and references I am pursuing a kind of maximalism that I feel is relevant to our time.”

Daverington travelled widely in his twenties and has settled in America, currently living in Beacon, an hour’s drive from New York City. He was drawn to the city for its “very international art scene and great collections” and has found support for his visual art as well as his musical pursuits. Daverington is an accomplished player of the ney, a Middle Eastern flute that he studied for years while living in Turkey and Egypt. He recently performed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Centre. “This is also an important part of my artistic life and is a counterpoint to my visual art,” he states. Both are vital parts of his artistic practice. “I don’t think I could be anything but an artist, I think art is something you do because it’s an inner need, an instinctive impulse.”

His upcoming exhibition at Arc One Gallery in Melbourne is, he states, “really a culmination of many years honing my craft as a painter. The best way I can describe it is a true celebration of my love for painting. The rapture I continue to feel for the history of painting is so deep for me I really had no choice but to become a painter myself … I feel this show is an overflowing of a true inner need to paint and to purge myself of desire. The desire I speak of here is the desire to try out all that interests me – such as very large scale work, figuration, the landscape, architecture, the mediaeval, the classical, surrealist and religious art and so on. I want to do it all and I refuse to constrain and edit myself. Life is too short and my body’s energy is finite. I needed to do these paintings and, therefore, the title of the show is
Because Painting. What more can I say?”

Phip Murray
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