Ellen Morgan Butler
Form explodes function here. Symbol and story fade into the background to give the physicality of the paintings priority. By turns clean and chaotic, Peters’s Forms guide the eye across texture and colour, inviting the viewer to absorb rather than just observe the work.
A stringent rectangle of pastel blue descends brazen and dispassionate over a background of hot pink gradients and a nest of jumbled geometries (Hot & Heavy (New Old Forms)). A wide, drab grey stroke spiderwebs out across fluro pinks and yellows (Untitled (My Little Beautiful)). A depth of harried texture reveals itself quietly beneath thin strokes of aqua blue and a centralizing purple square (Untitled (A Slower Take)).
Like Peters’s previous projects A Slow Take, The Colour of Courtenay Place, Ground Work, and others, this one is interested in color blocks and contrasts, in perception and vision. But where previous projects were more streamlined and clean, this collection approaches the messy and the uncertain. It points to the false starts and failures that become part of a work’s meaning but also—and maybe less joyfully—to the anxiously self-conscious aspects of meaning-making.
These works are part of a vast progeny of the Modernists and abstract expressionists like Rothko, Mondrian, Pollack, and Matisse, who sought above all else a radiance of form. Who believed that art could be a thing that stands for nothing but itself and could therefore change a viewer’s thinking about beauty and—yes I will say it—truth. As is made clear in Peters’s A Manifesto (of sorts) 0.3, there is due concern for “context context context.”
But, the relationship of art to meaning to history to beauty (and so on) can be an overwrought and sometimes dull topic. And the compulsion to justify a work against the threat of meaninglessness can become exhausting. At times, I feared this exhibition was on the verge of sabotaging its own goals by draping the paintings in ideology when the paintings could speak for themselves.
Peters’s deeper project here I think, not to be overlooked, is to explore such questions playfully rather than self-seriously—using the delightful simplicity of gesture and form. Viewers need not get lost in the in-between. This exhibition's joys (and apprehensions) speak for themselves.
New Old Forms will be on free of charge at Toi Pōneke Gallery, 61/69 Abel Smith Street from 10am-8pm weekdays and 10am-4pm weekends until February 29. There will be an artist talk with Peters at 11am on Saturday 22 February.