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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Spanish journal



Peter Atkins


27 Jun 1963 -


Much of Peter Atkins’ work has been created as a response to journeys he has taken. They can be enjoyed as diaries or scrapbooks of observed detail discovered along the way. Ron Kitaj and Joe Tilson were among a number of artists who took up silkscreen printing in the 1960s as a way of storing and sorting the mass of visual data they accumulated that might one day become raw material for painting. Atkins’ collages share some of this function although they have been distilled further than the scrapbook effect of these artists. His sources include apparently insignificant details such as fragments of design motifs from both high and popular art, even such commonplace items as the folding tops of takeaway boxes.

‘Spanish journal’ is comprised of 20 parts each of which records Atkins’ travels through Spain. The works are always layered and although they reflect the immediate and specific details of objects found in Spain, they also carry antipodean memories. In some cases this takes the form of homage to other artists such as Colin McCahon, Rover Thomas and Rosalie Gascoigne. One work in this series is a collaged grid of rectangular fragments taken from a painted landscape. The fragments contain no recognisable features, only textural and tonal variation. The colour, tone and shape of the rectangles are assembled to unmistakably reflect the form of McCahon’s more abstracted landscape series. Another consists of a painted square with a border of small white shells; it is called ‘Pearl work for Rover’ (Rover Thomas) and without simulating the Aboriginal painter’s palette and form it enters into a harmonious correspondence with it.

These works value the human touch, the significance of the detail as opposed to the large statement, the local rather than the international. A fragment of fabric from Tokyo is glued down to make a small square painting and although it is essentially a found object it sits comfortably within the visual language we begin to recognise as Atkins’ own. The forms of the design have an affinity with the family of forms he regularly chooses to work with. There is more than a hint of early modernist design in his repertoire, likely reflecting his interest in collecting modern furniture and ceramics. ‘Spanish journal’ also gives a valuable insight into Peter Atkins’ working methods in other media.

These paintings and collages are the antithesis of autonomous abstraction; even when they are at their most formal and reduced, they suggest memories of actions performed as well as being records of places visited. A page of layered fruit wrappers not only brings out the transparency of the paper within a formal abstract grid, it also draws our attention to the pleasure of the many styles in their designed labels. Just as importantly the wrappers have the potential to suggest the oranges that the artist must have eaten while sitting in the Spanish sun.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006




Media category

Mixed media painting

Materials used

mixed media, 20 panels


installation dimensions variable :

a-t - 20 panels, 30 x 30 cm, each panel

a-t - 20 panels, 52.5 x 51.5 x 1.9 cm, each frame

Signature & date

Signed u.l. verso each frame, black marker "Peter Atkins".
Dated l.r. panel [a], white ink "June 18th, 1998./..."; l.l. panel [b], white ink "...June 25th, 1998."; l.c. [label] panel [c], ink "...July 1st, 1998."; l.c. panel [d], ink "...July 13th, 1998."; l.c. [label] panel [e], ink "...July 25th, 1998."; u.c. [label] panel [f], ink :...July 27th, 1998."; u.l. panel [g], ink "...August 2nd, 1998."; u.c. panel [h], ink "...August 14th, 1998."; u.l. panel [i], ink "August 25th, 1998."; l.c. [label] panel [j], ink "...September 1st, 1998."; l.l. panel [k], September 11th, 1998."; l.c. [label] panel [l], ink "...September 23th, 1998."; l.c. [label] panel [m], ink "...October 2nd, 1998."; l.r. panel [n], ink "...October 13th, 1998"; l.r. [label] panel [o], ink "November 5, 1998"; l.l. [label] panel [p], ink "...November 14th, 1998."; u.r. [label] panel [q], ink "...November 25th, 1998."; l.l. [label] panel [r], ink "...December 8th, 1998."; u.r. panel [s], ink "...December 14th, 1998."; u.r. panel [t], ink "...December 20th, 1998.".


Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2000


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Peter Atkins

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 5 publications


George Alexander, Look, 'From ho-hum to ah-ha', pg. 18-19, Melbourne, Feb 2001, 19 (colour illus.). illustration is a detail

Anthony Bond, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Objects and associations', pg.332-381, Sydney, 2006, 338-39 (colour illus.). illustrations on pg.339 are details

Deborah Hart, Art and Australia (Vol. 39, No. 4), 'Peter Atkins: finding beauty in the everyday', pg. 568-577, Sydney, Jun 2002-Aug 2002, 575-576, 577 (colour illus.).

Simeon Kronenberg, Accumulation, 'Documenting aesthetic responses', Sydney, 2000, (colour illus.). no pagination

Mexico City Gallery (Organiser), Five Continents and One City, Mexico, 1999.