Visiting Artist at TAFE Wednesday 15th August
Topic: Landscapes via “Environmental Expressionism”
Peter Biram visited us earlier in the year and we had the opportunity to do an all day drawing workshop with him. Today he was back to give a presentation to all the visual arts and illustration students about his art, his history and his goals.
Peter began by asking us “What is the definition an artist?” Some would say it is difficult to define especially when you add the word “professional” to the front of it. Is it when you start selling your work, when you become qualified or when you decide to start taking your career as an artist seriously? (by the way at this point I recall the strict term for professional as being someone who has qualifications that are recognised such as a degree, doctorate, masters etc. which is where I tend to fall when I think of a professional – which is also why I am a bit shy about calling myself one until I gain my qualifications even though I am exhibiting, selling, training and running a small arts based business). Anyway, I digress. For Peter his moment came when he really started taking his art career seriously and gave it his full time attention. His early career was in photography and as a cameraman for television rather than painting.
Many of Peter’s early works were on the scale of 6ft x 6ft, concentrating on mark making and exploring visual language or stories to convey his message. He uses cameras and feels that whatever technology you have to use to active the results you want should be acceptable. His early career as a photographer and cameraman helped him zero in on what was working or not in those mediums and change from using them as his main form of expression to an aid in producing it.
Peter’s post graduate work looked at exploring surfaces and concepts, later he began looking int o past civilisations and the impact that they had on the land. He asked us to think about any landscape we may look at. What does it look like now, what did it look like before man-made his marks on it? Have cultures had an influence on what you are looking at? For example Peter spent time working with Koori students and gained the opportunity to work with members of the different groups. He took on the stories and the creative influences to give his own view in later paintings.
About this time he a started thinking about the environment more seriously and how we can use the land in more sustainable ways. Not leaving it totally alone, but having a positive impact rather than a destructive one. With his good working relationship with the Koori community a gradual evolution of mark making came into Peter’s work. Symbols came into use as well as showing not only the more traditional “figurative” presentation of a landscape, but also in the bottom half of the works, a more symbolic representation, by icons or patterned marks. The interpretation of these he leave to the viewers of his work. He is quite happy for one person to see one thing and someone else to see something else.
Splitting paintings into halves I think could be a bit tricky when combining two methods, but the thing that pulls them together is the story. Whether taken from mythology, other cultures around the world or even from science and the interesting theory of parallel universes as long as the overall story pulls them together, I think the concept works. This is what Peter is aiming to achieve in his work.
Some of Peter’s later works are taken from a “bird’s-eye” perspective. The landscape is split by roads showing their impact on previously untouched wilderness, this with the addition of geometric shapes subtly worked into the painting makes interesting and though provoking artworks. The paintings of the landscape after the Ash Wednesday, Lorne and Black Saturday fires were divided up in similar ways. The symbolism of the tree ferns returning to life and left over house stumps showing where a family once lived amongst the still blackened surroundings was quite striking.
Most recently Peter has been experimenting with combining more western pattern making along with traditional older cultures. Showing a kind of ancient meets more modern western culture combination. He often uses anything including doilies from Spotlight as templates to achieve his affects and is currently working on a more technical adaptation of this idea to work in with his paintings.
To finish off we were also shown some striking and colourful portraits. These well known figures were painted in poses that reflected their true interests in most part. They were relaxed and very expressionist rather than photo realistic (after all if you want it that realistic just take a photo). Peter also talked about his “movement” which he has named “Environmental Expressionism”. The name has been registered to him and he is taking the whole thing very seriously. Artists of all sorts are invited to join and you don’t have to paint like him to participate. The web address is: www.environmentalexpressionism.com. (although Peter, you need a better web site designed – talk to me, I may be able to help you with that)
A final note about Peter which shows how important it is to understand your materials and mediums. Peter is red/green colour blind! His paintings glow with colour, they have complementaries working with each other and colour used as highlights as you would expect from an artist who sees colour as most of the rest of us do. Something to think about isn’t it!