Archive: Issue No. 132, August 2008

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Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Black Sharks 2001
enamel on board
150 x 220cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Black Man 2001
enamel on board
150 x 110cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
White Flowers and Skull 2001
enamel on board
90 x 90cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Red Flower 2005
oil, resin and enamel on aluminium
150 x 90cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Horse 2005
oil, resin and enamel on aluminium
210 x 310cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Black Portraits 1 and 2 2005
oil, resin and enamel on aluminium
220 x 150cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
City View 2006
oil, resin and enamel on aluminium
200 x 90cm

Peter Eastman Peter Eastman
Small Black Portraits 2006
oil, resin and enamel on aluminium
50 x 50 cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Black Portraits 2006
oil, resin and enamel on aluminium
150 x 90cm each

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Red Tree 2006
enamel and acrylic on aluminium
120cm diameter

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Blue/Green Shadows 2007
enamel on aluminium
220 x 150cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Shadow Paintings 2006
enamel on aluminum
220 x 150cm each

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Shadow Paintings 2006 (in progress)

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Supernature group 2007
acrylic and enamel on aluminium
50 x 50cm each

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Blindness and Desolation 2007
acrylic and enamel on aluminium
210 x 150cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Bad Luck 2007
acrylic and enamel on aluminium
210 x 150cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Change of Weather 2007
acrylic and enamel on aluminium
210 x 150cm

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Shed 2008 (in progress)
acrylic on canvas
210 x 150cm


Peter Eastman
by Paul Edmunds (August, 2008)

MODUS OPERANDI

When discussing Peter Eastman, mention is always made of the fact that he dropped out of art school after a year, foregoing formal education for a practical one, feeling that he wanted to get going with his painting career. He then spent some time restoring antiquities in London.

From one angle, in current South Africa, the lack of a formal education is hardly unusual, but from another, it provides an interesting insight into Eastman's work. He produces paintings on flat surfaces, which are for the most part hung on walls. However it is his slightly unconventional approach and aesthetic which set him apart from many others doing the same.

For one thing, his choice of subject matter is sometimes a little arcane. For another, many of his paintings, most notably his earlier works, are very difficult to see. All of this serves to articulate Eastman's concerns around the viewer's relationship to his work, and to painting in general. Nowhere was this more evident than in his often monochromatic paintings produced from 2004 when he first came to prominence. Time and again, Eastman has referred to his interest in how the work reflects on a viewer. Sometimes this has been explored quite literally, where someone standing in front of one of his large monochromatic works is faced with the nacreous interference of their reflection with the artist's creation. Viewer and subject matter become almost indistinguishable, and, in this way, Eastman contends, the painting acts as a foil for a viewer's self-reflection.

More recently he has begun exploring this notion in a less literal way, taking the term 'reflection' to mean more than a physical process, involving light, a shiny surface and a viewer. In his most recent work he has begun introducing more overt imagery and a greater degree of illusionism, suggesting that a viewer's interpretation of the images presented to them serves to reflect on them in a more metaphorical way.

Alongside his paintings Eastman has always produced digital prints which he creates by working over photographs in digital media, subtly altering forms, tones and colour. This he says, has always allowed him to explore colour even while he was methodically removing it from his paintings.

MODUS OPERANDI

'These monotone enamel paintings reflect on our position as a viewer. They make us aware of ourselves in relation to a painting and, more broadly, of our persona and position in the world at large.', catalogue statement, Reflective, Michael Stevenson Gallery 2004

'At the moment I am trying to make paintings that work only as painting. That is to say that there would be no other medium more appropriate for the image. If the painting can be accurately photographed, or if it is not essential to the image that it is in paint, then there is no need for it to be a painting. The only way to see these paintings is by standing in front of them.', interview, Art South Africa, vol. 04, issue 02 2005

'This idea of projection relates to previous work of mine where the reflective surface of the painting includes oneself and one's environment, forcing the viewer to include themselves in interpreting the work. This idea in turn developed from the way in which people would see things in paintings of mine in a way which for me was nothing like what I had in mind, but which seemed like reasonable interpretations'.

WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID

'The artist refuses to impose any narrative or representational meaning to his imagery... Even when using the same image over and over again, the pictures are never about the same thing... The reflections become part of the image and alter in different situations and with varying light. The colours of the painting are never final.' Michael Stevenson and Annabel Rosholt, Moving in Time and Space Michael Stevenson Contemporary 2003

'The blacks reflect like polished agate, and project viewer and gallery into the painting, thus blurring the boundaries between real and fictive worlds.' Lloyd Pollak, Art South Africa vol.03, issue 01 2004

CURRENTLY

Eastman has begun producing acrylic on canvas works, preferring this, for the moment, to the less sympathetic enamel on aluminium. He prefers, he adds, the relatively innocuous acrylics to all the solvents used in preparing aluminium and working with enamel. The process has also become a lot quicker. Although Eastman feels that his current work is a natural progression and slight development from his last body of work, a viewer might think differently. Images taken from photographs are used, but the originals soon lose importance as paint and surface become paramount. Naturalism gives way to something you really don't want to call expressionism, but which has some of its gestures and evocative use of colours. What this topmost paint does, however, is draw a viewer's attention back to the surface and away from illusionism, re-establishing both the viewer and the painting's presence in the here and now.

BEFORE THAT

In the 2007 series of 'Shadow Paintings', simple shadow silhouettes of figures cast on monochromatic backgrounds were rendered in Eastman's characteristic shimmering enamels. Revealing a mastery of tone, the figures and their grounds assumed equal importance, and a viewer's reflection cast onto the works, also originating below the format, entered into a competition for starring role on this stage.

Later that year, Eastman presented 'Supernature' at hip Cape Town gallery whatiftheworld. Comprising a suite of enamel and acrylic on aluminium paintings, the show found Eastman working in a more naturalistic mode to produce a series of large scale images of owls. Along with works measuring two metres in height was a cluster of smaller images. Eastman's sensual engagement with paint was most evident in these rich, startling paintings. Each work was given a title which referred to a belief about owls or the sighting thereof, ranging from Blindness and desolation and Bad Luck to Change of weather.

This body of work looks on the surface to be a departure for the artist, but, he asserts, his concerns remain similar: 'One sees the serious faces of owls staring out, when in reality they are not serious, accusing or surprised, but probably thinking about where to get the next mouse to eat or whatever owls think about. It is this human projection onto the owls that I like... they are just a way of looking at this concept... more about the way our projections reveal more about ourselves than what we are actually seeing.'

Where this idea was previously immersed in the physical structure of the painting - its hovering, reflecting, unyielding surface - Eastman now explores this relationship with the images and what responses they evoke. His naturalistic, and highly skilful renderings also allow him to explore more fully the sensuousness of paint and colour.

AND BEFORE THAT

From 2004 - 2007, Eastman produced several related series of paintings including the 'Shadow Paintings'. In 2004 he presented a show at Michael Stevenson entitled 'Reflective'. Here in a series of cityscapes, Eastman had combined a simple but accurate depiction of the subject matter in simple colours with the shallow relief created by layers of enamel. Describing this he suggested, 'I paint in a studio in the city of Cape Town where I feel a part of, but apart from, the masses of people, and in the paintings I play with my ambivalence toward anonymity in a familiar landscape.' Perhaps the objective observation and rendering of his surroundings combined with the blurry outlines of the shallow relief, all disturbed by a viewer's reflection, captures that ambivalence.

He explored this technique in other works such as Shark (2004) and 2005's Black Portraits series. It was here that this characteristic enamel painting technique really came into its own. Monochromatic surfaces held shallow relief depictions, built up by layers and layers of oil and enamel paint, and later polyester resin. These images were nearly invisible until the right light threw them into relief. All the while the viewer's reflection intruded on this, painting the paint, as it were, with reflected tone and colour. This technique was probably most successfully used in 2005's monumental Horse.

The Black Portraits comprised a series of large scale black portraits of England's most famous wrongly convicted men, the so-called Birmingham Six. The works were constructed solely in very shallow relief, with agitated but carefully controlled brushwork providing a complex broken surface for poured black enamel. The images appear, morph and dissolve as a viewer moves past, implicating one in the construction and maintenance of the portrait. Eastman explores the visual paradox of a black painting being only visible by the white light it reflects. The work probably, consciously or otherwise, makes reference to Marcus Harvey's controversial portrait Myra which Eastman saw while he was working in London.

NEXT UP

Eastman does not have a show planned in the immediate future, but is clearly very productive at the moment, uncertain but excited about where his new body of work will take him.

CURRICULUM VITAE

Born 1976. Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa.

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS

Solo exhibitions
2007 'Supernature', whatiftheworld Gallery, Cape Town
2007 'Shadow Paintings 2004 - 2007', Obert Contemporary, Johannesburg
2004 'Reflective', Michael Stevenson Contemporary, Cape Town

Group exhibitions
2008 Joburg Art Fair, Johannesburg
2008 'Realisme' Art Fair, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2007 Three-person show, Cork Street Gallery, London, UK
2006 'Twogether', 34Long, Cape Town
2005 'South-East', 34Long, Cape Town
2005 'Mashups', collaboration with Matthew Hindley, 34Long, Cape Town
2005 Obert Contemporary, Johannesburg
2005 Sasol New Signatures exhibition, Pretoria art Museum, Pretoria
2004 'South African Art 1800 - Now', Michael Stevenson Contemporary, Cape Town
2004 Art Salon, Rose Korber Gallery, Cape Town
2003 Absa l'Atelier finalists' exhibition, Johannesburg
 


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