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John PEART (b.1945; d.2013) - ABSTRACT
John PEART (b.1945; d.2013) - UNTITLED

John PEART (b.1945; d.2013)

John Peart was born in Brisbane in December 1945. He displayed remarkable artistic talent from early in his life. Whilst at primary school, he was selected to attend art classes at the Old Museum. After leaving Brisbane State High School, he commenced formal art training at Brisbane Technical College in 1961. However, he left after a year and moved to Sydney to pursue an art career whilst still only sixteen. In Sydney he worked at Barry Stern Galleries befriending Frank Watters, who also worked there.

In 1967, he worked with composer Nigel Butterley on the production of an ABC film entry for the Italia Prize. After winning a raft of major prizes in 1968 together with a Myer Foundation travel grant, Peart headed overseas, travelling through Europe and the United States. Peart settled to live in Wiltshire, England with his then wife, Brisbane potter Diane Moon, and family for several years between 1969 and 1975, including sharing a studio with David Aspden in 1971.

Returning to Sydney, he taught painting at the National Art School in Sydney from 1978 to 1986, and again between 1993 and 2002.* In the 1980s, he moved to a dedicated artistic community together with Roy Jackson, Elisabeth Cummins, Joan Brassil and Fred Braat at Wedderburn. The community was an informal group of artists based on a 25-acre property approximately 60 kilometres south of Sydney. They shared a loose artistic vision of a non-figurative response to the nature which surrounded them.** For Peart, this was part of a shift towards a specifically Australian style of art – he later said “I realised that painting was not developing along a linear path dictated entirely by New York, then I got busy rediscovering Australia”.***

Having been interested in Eastern philosophy for many years, he travelled to India with his family in 1984 to get closer to Buddhist and Hindu cultures and his art reflected that spiritual quest. His friend, the Sculptor Paul Selwood, said of him: “Peart's life is a spiritual quest; painting is a process of ‘becoming’ through aesthetic perception”. ****

Peart first exhibited in a group exhibition with Watters Gallery in Sydney in 1965 and held his first solo exhibition there in 1967. In 1968 he participated in the influential, ground-breaking exhibition The Field at the National Gallery of Victoria, which was linked to the Colour Field expressionism movement and curated by John Stringer. From then, he held more than forty solo exhibitions between 1967 and 2017, including a touring retrospective mounted by the Campbelltown Arts Centre in 2004.

Peart burst onto the Australian art scene in 1968, when he was awarded the Pacesetter Prize, Mirror-Waratah Prize, Newcastle Prize and Transfield Prize. From that time, he won many further awards and prizes including being awarded the Wynne Prize in 1997; being a finalist for the Archibald Prize in 1998; being awarded the Sulman Prize in 2000 and the Universities and Schools Club Invitation Art Award in 2002.* Peart's early works were brightly coloured calligraphic works characterized by “rich colour and bold geometry”.*** However, after being influenced by the Museum of Modern Art, New York travelling exhibition Two Decades of American Painting, which opened at the NGV in 1967, Peart chose to pursue a reductive style of abstraction in his art and his paintings were characterised by his use of a cool, monochrome palette and large-scale sculptural stretchers. During this period, Peart was interested in both the spatial and optical potentials of the canvas surface, and this is exemplified by his works exhibited in The Field, which cemented his reputation as a leading new abstractionist. John Stringer described the effect of the jutting triangular corners and the varying shades of pale blue in Corner II as ‘hypnotic’. *

As he explored various styles and approaches, Peart maintained an unwavering focus on abstraction. His exposure to Abstract Expressionism while overseas charged his work with a new pictorial energy, and the period spent in England was one of assimilation and resolution. John Stringer has said: “Peart’s mature work has to a great extent been disciplined, clarified and conditioned by his early encounters with the rigours of Minimalism”. ****

Although constantly trying different working techniques, Peart developed a unique way of relating form to ground through subtraction, much like a sculptor. Geoffrey Legge, who ran Watters Gallery together with Frank Watters, has said: “He starts by covering the canvas with glowing colours so that it becomes a field of luminous beauty. Over this vibrant surface he superimposes what will become the [back]ground. Parts of the original painting, left untouched, become the forms and figures - the ground playing a dynamic role in their creation. Peart's study of Eastern thought has informed his way of working.” ****

Although Peart painted landscapes and won the Wynne prize for landscape in 1997, artist Joe Frost has said: “'But there is not a clearly identifiable tree or building to be seen. Peart is calling on the various impulses that animate the landscape as he finds them within himself.” Peart himself said: “'I see pictorial space as an inner landscape for the mind's eye to roam; so, it's not surprising if my paintings evoke the feeling of landscape. [I] know it is a mental projection, but it is inherently delightful. While painting, I am issuing an open invitation for these illusions - or allusions - to enter. My conscious mind can be occupied with the making, and the unconscious can come up with its own surprises.” ****

Peart’s works are held in Collections across Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Parliament House Canberra and many other state and regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia.

* John Peart, The Field Revisited Artwork Labels, p. 23 & 125 ** John Peart: Artists was at one with every landscape he painted, Jeremy Eccles, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 November 2013 *** Subtle, hidden depth in paintings, personality, Anna Johnson, The Australian, 16 October 2013 **** John Peart Paintings 1964-2004, Campbelltown Arts Centre travelling exhibition catalogue


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