New York, 504 West 24th Street
The British painter Peter Joseph remains the longest standing artist Lisson Gallery has exhibited since the London-based gallery opened its doors fifty years ago. Over the decades, the gallery has mounted tens of exhibitions dedicated to the work by the renowned painter; their first collaboration in New York includes a new body of work that manifests his interest in looser and freer forms. Artspeak editor Osman Can Yerebakan interviewed Joseph about his contemplative and joyous New York exhibition.
Osman Can Yerebakan: Artists like yourself, David Hockney or Etel Adnan turn their fascination for their environment into their source material. Your method is significantly more abstract compared to the others. How does nature influence your abstract painting practice?
Peter Joseph: I need nature, because I find the social environment impossible for a relationship. I can simply say that I am in search of meaning and yet—which is why I am finding this difficult to state—I am aware that I am part of the social world and have to contribute my part. But most of all I need the mystery of existence to be what I pursue, not obviously with words but with what I find in myself and my relation with nature. Nature, I find, is where I can think, dream and find the intensity of what we call meaning… It took me some time to realize that abstraction is the only way that I can find a personal vocabulary in painting, through the relationship of shapes, colors and light. I can see that with the great painters of the past that I admire, that although they had a job to do in pleasing a public they understood the task of painting which is a way of realizing the intensity and density of meaning without a need for explanation. I think perhaps, on reflection, nature offers me a vocabulary of forms which are abstract.
OCY: In this exhibition your gestures are looser and freer. How has this transition improved over the years?
PJ: The paintings which span a period of approximately thirty-four years from 1970 came from a need to detach myself from what might be called basic abstraction. I needed a more personal expression and, without realizing at the time, a rendering of light and darkness as a continuous revealing process. This followed me as an attitude for those thirty-four years in which the border became deeper in relation to the centre, but both had to be allied on the surface to make an engagement of meaning. An artist I felt most clearly drawn to at that time and have been ever since was Claude Lorraine, his very personal interpretation of landscape which no matter whether it had trees and distance used the most perfect means of light, tonality and distance to embrace his vision. This meant keeping a format which was superficially abstract only in its use of a rectangle within a rectangle. Nevertheless I was attempting to show the subtleties that gave me a seemingly never-ending possibility of a different interpretation through the use of light and color. The gesture has not changed in the sense of what you call freedom. When I finally broke from the format of two rectangles I found myself needing to declare something. I started with division of the canvas into two sections which then became areas of what I could only call action. That meant shapes which I did not want to be anything other than the shapes naturally found by a brush itself and the range of the brush. Although I have been making these paintings for around eleven years and it has developed, I have the freedom of exploring images that appear like a final gift.
OCY: The studies accompany the paintings they later turn into. Do you consider them as artworks?
PJ: The studies are artworks and I see them as no different to the way a seventeenth century painter nearly always had studies as the basis of the larger vision of the painting. I see them no differently to how someone interested in painting would like to see a drawing by Rembrandt or Titian and to see its realization in its more complex state as a painting.
OCY: Your practice both contains precision and chance. How do you make a balance between the two and do you consider them as opposites?
PJ: To me precision and chance are working partners. Arp put it most wonderfully as ‘Objects arranged according to the laws of chance’.
OCY: You build an alternative notion of perspective with the way you compose and pile color forms. How do you interpret depth and perspective as an abstract painter?
PJ: Both depth and perspective are fluid and ever-changing in both the object perceived and the mind of the viewer. I hope the work successfully reveals that.
The exhibition remains on view through August 11, 2017.