For background on the artist and works, see below.
About the Artist
One of the major figures in New Zealand modernist art, Don Peebles was a pioneer of abstract art in this country and throughout a career that spanned over 60 years to his death in 2010, he remained a significant influence on his own and subsequent generations of New Zealand artists.
He constantly reinvented himself, bringing a freshness of ideas and form to each artwork. His work was often pared back to a deceptive simplicity, as he juxtaposed texture, harmonised colour and composition to the ultimate point of balance. Nothing in his relief constructions was random. While his work tended towards minimalism, it was only to the point where a sublime tension existed between the elements in the work – a true ‘harmony of opposites’.
His ideas often started somewhere in the landscape; it might be the colour of clay, or it might be a man-made structure creating an interesting effect – suggesting outlines which translated to an energy within a painting. But his paintings were not intended as interpretations of the landscape; these were just starting points, sparks of inspiration. His paintings explored the tension of balance, opposites and simply painting itself.
They are not easy works to describe, because they are not figurative or representational. The viewer has to spend a little time and find their own response – as the artist himself said, the question is not ‘what does it mean?’ but like listening to fine music, ‘how does it make you feel?’
Don Peebles returned to painting on stretched canvas for the first time in 30 years, in the smaller works exhibited in Images at The Diversion Gallery in April-May 2006.
However, he continued to explore both painterly unstretched hangings, and constructionism – with a beautiful painterly element balanced against a minimalist background, such as the subtle and sophisticated Metro. The projecting wooden edges of these works are part of the painting – to work with and against the central elements. A Peebles trademark was the small detail or spot of colour, which often appeared to ‘escape’ the formal composition.
Peebles’ work is a must in any serious collection of abstract New Zealand art. His work is held in major public and private collections around New Zealand and is an essential ingredient in key surveys of contemporary, modernist or abstract NZ art – yet he remained among the more affordable of NZ’s senior artists.
More About the Artist
Born in Taneatua, Bay of Plenty, in 1922, Don Peebles studied fine art in Florence, Italy at the end of WWII; Wellington and Sydney; and was strongly influenced by the constructivism of Victor Pasmore while working in London in the early 1960s.
Don Peebles greatly influenced generations of NZ artists as a highly respected senior lecturer and Reader in Painting at the Canterbury University School of Fine Arts, while continuing his own art practice and quest for the ultimate point of balance in abstraction. He retired from teaching in 1986 to paint full-time, and continued to exhibit regularly throughout New Zealand.
Peebles was the subject of a major and acclaimed retrospective exhibition The Harmony of Opposites, which toured in the 1990s. Peebles has written extensively on the arts, and is himself widely reviewed in leading books on New Zealand contemporary art.
Don Peebles has received several prestigious awards and fellowships, and in 1999 was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the visual arts. The University of Canterbury conferred an Honorary Doctorate on this distinguished artist in 2003.
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