ART - AUSTRALIAN - PETER KINGSTON - CATALOGUE ESSAY
Kingston’s “Ferryspotting” runs for 40
kilometres. Our journey starts from where he lives above Sydney
Harbour’s Lavender Bay and ends up at Mackerel Beach in Broken Bay
where he has been painting on weekdays. Both termini are served by small
the title of the film Trainspotting,
“Ferryspotting” is about more than a means of transport. Here is
another of those sounds with two spellings - ferry/fairy -and multiple
of that overlap was caught in an anecdote about a Mardi Gras tourist.
When his host says “That’s
the Manly ferry”, the visitor replies, “Gawd, I knew you guys were
organised but I didn’t realise you had your own navy”. One does not
need to be an importuning policeman to spot this kind of fairy around
Sydney, though some otherwise prominent ones remain cloistered.
is the favourite role of too many Sydney artists who are content to
contemplate the scene from the outside. Around 1890, Arthur Streeton
brought a holiday mood to McMahon’s Point wharf. By contrast, Tom
Roberts pictured the smog over the harbour from the steam ferries.
treat the port’s expanse as one big Luna Park is to fail to appreciate
its significance as a work site. As Mary Gilmore put it in “Old Botany
Bay”: “Shame on the mouth/ That would deny/ The knotted hands/ That
set us high”. For good or ill, the harbour we have today is the
product of barbarism and ingenuity, its foreshores reshaped to serve
industry and commerce. The ferries that Peter Kingston spots carry
thousands to and from work each day. These vessels are workplaces for
their crews, casting off lines or collecting fares. John Passmore (1???
-19 ) pictured
this strand of the waterfront, just as he apprehended that every draught
of fishes can seem miraculous, and life find some meaning in the
mundane. His vision continues in canvasses by Ann Thompson and Brent
found his fun and games at Luna Park by working there as a painter. That
experience confirms the view that art is the proper kind of work for
representation of Sydney is often about leisure. The Harbour as fun
palace prevails in the paintings of Lloyd Rees, Brett Whiteley and John
Firth-Smith. All three offer smooth surfaces and knot-free lines. By
contrast, Peter Kingston’s paintings look choppy, like the water in a
squall. Similarly, his drawing is a tangle of tackle, a conundrum of
ideas. His works are subversive in their rawness. Their truth is in
their untidiness, their textures disturbing the relaxed and comfortable
fog that has enveloped Kirribilli House.
by sea” is the title of Kingston’s recent exhibition at the Museum
of Sydney. That phrase is apt for this show too, providing that
“girt’ is not taken as limiting his subjects.
range includes yet another form of ferry-fairy as a figment of the air,
an enchanted creature. A touch of that mystery appears in the Phantom
who haunts Kingston’s imagination as a passenger on the ferries. His
companion, Boofhead, expresses the defiance of someone too honest to be
taken in by any smart set.
final form of fairy is the penguin. At Mackerel Beach, Peter helped
rescue one from a fishing line. After letting it rest under the jetty,
the locals returned it to the colony on Lion Island. But the bird came
back to take up residence where the ferry docks, swooping through the
clear shallows to catch tiddlers, its velveteen back bluer than the
Scotty terrier, Denton, demonstrates an agility that is improbable when
you look at the proportions of his legs, head and body. Yet, in his
element, Denton is a match for ‘Mac’, the fairy penguin. It is easy
to imagine that odd couple starring in a series of books for children,
solving crimes against the environment.
citizen and artist, Peter Kingston has contested the demolition of
ramshackle wharfs and elegant residences along the foreshores. Their
disappearance is part of a rush to erase memory.
suburbia has reproduced itself at Mackerel Beach, its tranquilly is
threatened by disputes among the residents, as documented in The Australian Magazine ( ?? May 2001). Peter Kingston images of
labour and destruction show that there is no haven. The cliffs around
Lavender Bay are blotted by maximum security detention centres for
millionaires. Kingston’s own house defies this vandalism in its
dilapidation as resolutely as does his art in its refusal to tack with
the breeze of fashion. The depth of his observation is obvious in the
opalescence he allows in the green water or the pinkness to the
settler Australian culture, wilful forgetting runs second to never
having known. Arthur Stace has been granted immortality for the monotony
of his “Eternity”. But the fecund strokes from the city’s most incisive
caricaturist and cartoonist, George Finey (18 -198 ),
are far more deserving of recognition, though not a marketing campaign.
Although the surfaces of Finey’s and Kingston’s work could not be
further apart, there are parallels in their temperaments and concerns.
Like Finey, Kingston is a mix of whimsy and toughness.
compleat outsider, Finey once set out to row his worldly goods in a
dinghy from Circular Quay to Palm Beach. With the luck of the joker in
the pack, Finey and his boat sank within a few metres of departure. With
Peter Kingston’s expertise in messing around with boats, they would
have made it to Pittwater. Through his skill with oil and ink, we all
have a better chance of seeing through the destructive to the
innovative, gathering steam from the past to make a surer landing in the
McQueen is the author of three books on Australian art, including Suburbs of the Sacred (1988), which analysed the post-war art scene
through the career of Peter Kingston’s North Sydney neighbour, Keith