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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Our faith part 1; no 4 - the case for and against colour



Stieg Persson


1959 -


In common with many other artists in the 1980s in Australia, Stieg Persson developed a distinctive visual language through looking at the history of art. While the use of visual references to other artists has been called appropriation, it is a reductive term which does not allow for the many individual approaches at this time to acknowledging the legacy of history in contemporary art. Persson utilised elements of abstraction, figuration and the decorative in his canvases. This particular work dates from the mid-1980s when he reintroduced colour to his work after painting exclusively in black and white for a number of years.

The large centre panel includes shards of collaged canvas carefully applied to the 'base' canvas. This black and white panel has abstracted forms which almost look like fragments of text torn up and displaced on the picture surface. Persson has frequently worked with a cursive, almost calligraphic, line in his paintings which suggests decorative excess while recalling a particularly elegant, extravagant and old-fashioned signature.

The adjacent smaller panels have exquisitely painted elements suggestive of 17th century Dutch painting. Pearls emerge from a dramatic black ground and parrots hover over this void. The abstract and figurative panels are disjunctive, but both are seductive and compelling as they speak to an exploration of both the exhaustion and viability of different visual languages. Like a 'vanitas' painting bringing to mind our imminent mortality, these panels appear to embody the death of painting while celebrating its continuing power to engage.




Media category


Materials used

oil on board, blackboard paint on canvas


a - panel a, 61 x 61 cm

b - panel b, 61 x 61 cm

c - panel c, 157 x 214 cm

d - panel d, 61 x 61 cm

e - panel e, 61 x 61 cm

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of Dr Colin and Mrs Elizabeth Laverty 2005


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Stieg Persson

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Wayne Tunnicliffe, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Cultural memory, critical distance', pg.154-203, Sydney, 2006, 157, 186, 187 (colour illus.).