November 2024


Peter SimpsonPeter SimpsonPeter SimpsonPeter SimpsonPeter SimpsonText: Tristan Ceddia Images: Peter Simpson

Peter Simpson paints immaculate landscapes. Known for his visions of rural Australia, Simpson’s current show Shimmers at Sydney’s Arthouse Gallery sees the artist turning over a new leaf with oils of New South Wales’ rugged coast line along side works featuring the rolling hills of New Zealand’s North Island. Enthralled by this exhibition, Tristan Ceddia catches Peter Simpson for a chat about his work.

Tristan Ceddia: When did you begin your career as an artist?

Peter Simpson: I studied for four years at RMIT, first doing a part-time year and then three years full-time as an undergraduate. I finished my degree in 1982 and then did two years of Post-Graduate studies at the VCA.

TC: You graduated the Victorian College of the Arts in the mid ’80s. What was life like for an artist in Melbourne at this time?

PS: RMIT was a very well rounded training in art, with emphasis on some very basic subjects such as general drawing, figure drawing, printmaking, painting and sculpture. The two years at the VCA were really studio practice to prepare you for life as an artist. There were a number of inspiring teachers there at the time including the Dean, the English painter John Walker, as well as painters such as Paul Partos and Peter Booth. It was a very productive period and many of the students from around that time are colleagues who are still painting today.

TC: Traditionally you paint rural Australian landscapes. Where does your obsession with the Australian landscape stem?

PS: I tend to respond to the world around about me so the landscape is a constant source of interest and a good ground onto which I like to build more personal ideas. So the landscape becomes the frame on which the work hangs. I also began a course in environmental science before switching to painting so those concerns remain and the landscape is a naturally perfect way to think about them.

TC: In your current show at Sydney’s Art House Gallery, along side landscapes, you have paintings of cliffs and the ocean for the first time. What excites you about painting the ocean?

PS: I have always painted the landscape but some earlier work from Melbourne did include paintings from around the docklands and other urban scenes including the back of Tullamarine Airport. I also painted and drew around Sydney Harbour for a show with Tony Palmer at Mary Place after I moved back to Sydney where I had grown up. I have always been backwards and forwards from the urban and coastal to the more pastoral so these latest sea pictures are just part of that recurring interest. But the ocean itself and the craggy cliffs that the waves crash have become very appealing. There is so much going on there it has a great sense of drama which I have enjoyed playing with.

TC: Also included in this show are landscape paintings from New Zealand, which were featured at a group show at Hazelhurst Gallery titled ‘On This Island, Meeting and Parting’. I understand 11 artists were sent to NZ to create paintings for this show. How did this come about?

PS: I was invited by Artist Profile magazine which organised the trip in association with Winsor and Newtown. The editor Paul Flynn had managed the Brian Moore Gallery where I used to show before joining Arthouse Gallery. Paul selected a number of artists who use the landscape in their work, but in differing ways. The aim was to see how we, as painters from Australia, would interpret the New Zealand landscape.

TC: Did you find the experience of painting these landscapes different to painting in Australia?

PS: It was very different. Working with 10 other serious artists was also different from my general practice of working alone. It was initially challenging but later very rewarding and has had a large impact on the way I work and, more importantly, on my approach to working.

TC: Did this experience have much impact on you as an artist?

PS: As I said in answer to the last question, yes, it has had a lasting impact on my work. It has given me a renewed enthusiasm for landscape but also a greater confidence about the sort of painter I want to be. Somehow being intensely in the landscape as we were I find myself increasingly wanting to let the specifics of the landscape go go as I explore the paintings that come out of that initial observation. I want the paint more and more to do the work. It is a process of constantly finding and then letting go,of disyilling meaning.

TC: Do you paint on location or do you work from sketches in your studio?

PS: I paint from drawings, painted studies and photographs. I like to paint, draw and take photographs and when I can, do prints, in no particular order. It’s a matter of keeping the subject matter and the process fresh in my mind.

TC: Did you work on location in New Zealand?

PS: We worked very solidly as a group when we were in New Zealand, painting out in the open every day. It was a transforming experience for me. I think for everyone on the trip it was a rewarding experience and the exhibition that came out of the work(shown first at Hazlehurst and then at the Bathurst Regional Gallery) clearly showed how much every one of the artist drew from that time, firstly on the east coast at Castle Point and then at Mount Ruapahu.

TC: What is the most exciting place you have painted?

PS: The latest place I painted is always the most exciting.

TC: If you could paint anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

PS: That is a surprise which is yet to reveal itself. I have some ideas about places I would like to work, both in Australia and overseas. But I won’t know until I get there how I am going to respond to them.

Peter Simpson Shimmer is on display at Art House Gallery, Sydney until the 6th of November.

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