The art that made me: Peter Kingston

In The art that made me, artists discuss works in the Art Gallery of NSW collection that either inspire, influence or simply delight them. This selection by Peter Kingston first appeared in Look – the Gallery’s members magazine.

Steven Miller, the Gallery’s head librarian, describes Peter Kingston’s archive, some 30 boxes in all, which the Sydney artist donated to the Gallery’s National Art Archive earlier this year, as 'very rich in letters, journals, photographic albums and objects that not only document Peter’s life, but is also rich in material from his artist friends, such as Martin Sharp and Brett Whiteley', friendships that shine through in his selection of favourite works in the Gallery’s collection.

Kingston, meanwhile, says he was impressed by the broad sweep of what Miller considered 'archival', from favourite books and comics to the saved collars of treasured dogs, something which aided his decision to donate such a trove to a gallery he has visited since childhood. 'On top of all this I’m grateful for the Gallery for always being there,' Kingston says. 'From the sour grapes of the Archibald to the joys of seeing things there that have encouraged me to press onward.'

Note:

Peter Kingston. Photo: Jan Cork

AGNSW collection George W Lambert Across the black soil plains (1899) 550
AGNSW collection George W Lambert Across the black soil plains (1899) 550

I had a mission to make a rubber stamp of the most iconic painting in the Gallery’s collection for the international Wipe [mail art] project… something that made you think of the Art Gallery of NSW when you saw the painting. It came down to either Dame Mary Gilmore by Bill Dobell or Across the black soil plains. I chose the latter because of the ingenious layout of the painting, with all the draft horses pulling the wool dray around a corner, and the drama… will it make it or topple over? It was also a very popular painting. A friend who was born in Nevertire, NSW, where the dray was headed, told me that in every house in town and on every station there was a reproduction of this painting with a framed portrait of the Queen hung next to it.

AGNSW collection Évariste Vital Luminais The sons of Clovis II (1880) 712
AGNSW collection Évariste Vital Luminais The sons of Clovis II (1880) 712

I remember this disturbing work of art as a boy. My friend Beth Patrick and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why were these two young men lying on a sort of king-sized bed, adrift on a becalmed barge? Why did they look so unhappy? What was it all about? Beth died recently, in her 80s. Now the sons of Clovis remind me of her.

AGNSW collection Elisabeth Cummings Arkaroola landscape (2004) 252.2005
AGNSW collection Elisabeth Cummings Arkaroola landscape (2004) 252.2005

Elisabeth [Cummings] and I are friends. We share a common concern for careless despoiling of the natural environment, her with a group at Wedderburn, dismayed at the cracking of riverbeds from coal mining, me with the Save Hinchinbrook Alliance against inappropriate, Gold Coast-style development around world-heritage Hinchinbrook Island in Far North Queensland. I collect her work because it inspires my painting of the water as a record of discovery.

Arkaroola landscape hung in the Archibald and Wynne Prize Salon des Refusés in 2005 and was later purchased by the Art Gallery of NSW for its permanent collection.

Note:

Martin Sharp Do not feed the buildings, date unknown, ink on paper, 13.9 x 23.5 cm, Peter Kingston Archive, National Art Archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales © estate of the artist, licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

Martin Sharp and I were mates for over 60 years. We met in Justin O’Brien’s art class at Cranbrook School and caught up later as cartoonists on OZ magazine and THARUNKA, the Yellow House and as artists at Luna Park in the ’70s. We collaborated on many projects and exchanged images. He would send me cartoons in the mail about my dogs Sweetie and Denton. Do not feed the buildings is one of my favourites, now held in the archives at the AGNSW.