Saturday, May 6, 2023

THE MIRROR Angles of Resistance

Brian Rope | Photomontage, Acrylics on canvas

THE MIRROR Angles of Resistance | PETER MALONEY

CCAS Lakeside | 15 April – 3 June 2023

THE MIRROR Angles of Resistance is said to examine Canberra-based artist Peter Maloney’s practice from the perspective of his gay/queer sexuality for the first time in his 40-year career. (In 2018 Drill Hall Gallery did survey his work from the preceding 30 years.) 

This show exhibits multiple examples of Maloney’s forms of expression – completed works, informal sketches and studies sourced directly from his studio. It provides a revealing account of his working method.

The curator, and artist’s partner, Mark Bayly has written “Maloney has produced a polymorphous body of work across multiple media, including collage, painting, photography, performance, sound and video. As a painter, his early commitment to gestural abstraction has given way to a practice of genre-defying bafflement. I suggest this, because in examining Maloney’s series of works over the past twenty years, I propose that they can best be mentally assembled and appreciated – as a puzzle – in the form of a funfair hall of mirrors.”

And there we have it – a puzzle to be solved. Walking around the gallery, exploring item by item, I was astounded by the variety and diversity. I found myself studying particular pieces for lengthy periods for a host of different reasons. In some cases it was to read then re-read text, as we might do with parts of a book or quality article – perhaps searching for meanings, perhaps revelling in the beauty of the words. A work titled The Rapping Nun fascinated me with its references to Borley Rectory - famous for being described as "the most haunted house in England".

Then there were the wall cases containing items we would love to pick up and hold and explore closely. And two copies of his monogram Fugitive Text we can pick up. And various complex mixed media pieces such as ‘Untitled (dune dream)’, 2005 – collage, photomontage, acrylic paint graphite and watercolour on paper -  which can be thoroughly examined.

Peter Maloney - 'Untitled (lies that life is black and white)’, 2018 (photomontage on mountboard)

There are numerous collages using black-and-white photographs (many of naked men) and portions of text from newspapers. There is painted text and works on paper incorporating text. The use of text clearly is important to Maloney and his art practice. It is also about him – his desires, who he is, his connections to others in his community.


'Berghain, 10am', 2014-20 (screen print and acrylic paint on canvas stitched to cotton stretcher) - courtesy of the artist - photograph by David Paterson

One work created on celluloid film shows two portraits side by side. Is it the same person? Identical twins? Unrelated look-alikes? Its title Michael: doppelganger perhaps hints at the most unlikely latter possibility. Whatever the story, we are drawn in to look and think – the artist is expressing his feelings and emotions.

Another work I Was Never Lost, 2014 had me intrigued for a variety of reasons. Why did it include the words “Schauen sie schnell! Eine kleine sterneschnuppe”, which translate to “Take a quick look! A small shooting star”? Why did it have a ghostlike figure and an apparent likeness of Ned Kelly on either side of an image of a naked man? What is it all about? This is today’s art at its best – challenging, intriguing, always pushing the definition, sometimes even bizarre or nonsensical.

'I was never lost, says Maloney', 2014 (photo transfer, acrylic paint, beeswax, ochre on canvas) - courtesy of the artist - photograph by David Paterson

Maloney has developed an eclectic and highly personal art style. Nowhere is that more evident than in Electroclash, 2002-12 which comprises sixteen pieces in various media, including paint on canvas, plywood, B/W photographs, phototransfer and collage on paper, and even an electric lead.

'Electroclash', 2002-12 (16 elements in various media, including acrylic paint on canvas, plywood, electric lead, B/W photographs, phototransfer and collage on paper) - courtesy of the artist - photograph by David Paterson

There are B/W and colourful large canvases - The Honey, 2010, Red Hot Hill Flattener, 2014 and Applause, 2002.

Peter Maloney - 'The Honey', 2010 (acrylic on canvas)

Peter Maloney - 'Red Hot Hill Flattener’, 2014 (acrylic on canvas)

And, wonderfully, a work titled Untitled (Greg in the studio), 2012 which is a photocopy of a photograph of a distressed photocopy (which, presumably, was of a photograph).

This review was first published in The Canberra Times on page 11 of Panorama and online on 6/5/23 here. It is also available on the author's blog here.