Review of Peter Godwin's exhibition at Defiance Gallery II, Paddington 2011,
Sebastian Smee, Art Critic, The Australian.
Now Art Critic for The Boston Globe.
In his current exhibition Godwin continues to explore still-lifes and interiors with the motifs for which he has become best known. These familiar objects such as oceanic artifacts, shells, fabric and sculpture, from his own collection, are paired with birds, squid or fish strewn across tabletops. He has employed an oval format for many of the works, which lends itself to this genre and he clearly relishes the challenge that this particular composition requires. Godwin uses gouache and tempera in a free and fresh manner that retains the expressive nature of drawing. The paintings are enhanced with an airy spaciousness whilst his touch is so wide-ranging and varied that the surfaces are alive with discoveries that delight.
"Godwin's works combine roughness and delicacy, figuration and decoration and dull and brilliant colour like no other artist I know. The surfaces are roughly treated. A lot of the brush strokes are bold and gestural. But pattern, like a quiet presence in the corner giving all the orders, is the real boss here. "
"Perhaps the real pleasure of his paintings comes from a close inspection, which reveals that the works are scored with marks and lines that defy photographic reproduction. All the artist's thinking, all his struggles with motif and medium, are laid bare."
"Godwin slows down our gaze and, with time, we gain a fuller appreciation of the way each picture is put together." - John McDonald, Art Critic, Sydney Morning Herald
‘He paints beautiful still-life interiors in a gestural, brushy manner, using tempera as never before' - Andrew Lambirth, The Spectator, London
Peter Godwin began exhibiting his work in 1978. In 2002 he began regularly exhibiting at Defiance Gallery, Sydney. Peter's work quickly attracted the attention of Australian collectors and he has enjoyed sell out solo exhibitions in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. His work is represented in private, corporate and public collections. He has been awarded the Art Gallery of New South Wales Gruner Prize in 1979 and again in 1985. Peter was the recipient of the Mosman Art Prize in 2004 and was selected as a finalist in the Art Gallery of NSW Sulman Prize in 2007. Peter worked as a sessional lecturer in painting and drawing at the National Art School, Sydney from 1983 to 2005.
Peter has had his first solo exhibition in London at Nevill Keating McIlroy Gallery which was met with great enthusiasm and acclaim.
'The unique character of Godwin's work springs partly from his use of egg tempera. He says this time-honoured medium enables him to paint in a way that feels very much like drawing on a lithographer's stone with a crayon. It handles like an oil-based paint but its fast-drying properties allow him to quickly build up layer upon layer. Godwin will scratch back into the surfaces, creating thin, meandering lines that break up the dark recessive planes he uses as a backdrop.
These paintings have strong abstract elements but with the aid of a title the objects they contain are easily recognizable: chairs, easels, squid, tribal masks from New Guinea, a lemon, a skull, a dead bird, even a harpsichord. Several pictures are dominated by a swathe of blue and white cloth painted in free arabesques. Light streams through a window, marking out a vivid white rectangle. The subjects are both important and unimportant. While one could imagine these paintings furnished with an alternative repertoire of props, Godwin loves to paint things that are old and familiar.
He keeps returning to the same motifs because he finds there is always another way of approaching them, something to add to his store of perceptions. If he is not as dogged as Giorgio Morandi it is because he expects to reach an end one day and move on to a different subject. Among the bric-a-brac in his studio there are small improvisations on various Old Master paintings, such as Fragonard's The Stolen Kiss. Godwin works somewhere in the interstices between the object and art history. He is conscious of those past masters who have brought an original slant to the painting of a still life or interior, but finds that each object has its own peculiarities in the way it occupies space and responds to light.
A Mendi mask or shield from New Guinea's Southern Highlands acts like a lurking presence in these paintings. Godwin is aware of the influence tribal art exerted on the early Modernists and enjoys that sense of continuity with artists such as Picasso and Braque, but he also wants us to recognise the abiding strangeness of these artifacts. A spirit mask taken from its original context and displayed in the studio is like a black hole in the fabric of bourgeois comforts. It is as though the artist wants to pay homage to a more primal form of life that exists on the margins of our artfully contrived ideas of civilisation. Godwin respects the power of these tribal presences but knows that he and his work are rooted in the bourgeois world. He accepts that painting is one of the abiding touchstones of our culture, a measure of evolving taste and intellectual receptiveness. He understands how its wellsprings spread deep and wide, into the past and the mysteries of other ‘exotic' cultures. Yet he also believes that for a painter to bring his work to the highest pitch of achievement, he must concentrate on those things that are close to home. For the artist it is the quality of the experience that counts, not the quantity of pictures or the variety of subjects. In his sunlit studio in the bush, Godwin has peered into the dark, secretive life of objects. Focusing on those motifs with which he has formed an intimate, long-term acquaintance he savours the thrill of continuous discovery.
An excerpt from the catalogue essay for Nevill Keating McIlroy, London by John McDonald.
‘Peter Godwin's the ‘Blue Curtain / Studio' is superb, an image as beautiful and ambiguous as any painting I have seen this year.' Sebastian Smee Art Critic 8 March 2007, The Australian
‘Godwin's small studies are painted with the most exquisite skill and sensitivity' John McDonald Art Critic 5 May 2007, Sydney Morning Herald
‘Godwin is swiftly becoming recognised as one of Australia's most accomplished painters...he emerged as a force in Australian art' - John McDonald 2009
Peter Godwin began exhibiting his work in 1978. In 2002 he began regularly exhibiting at Defiance Gallery, Sydney. Peter's work quickly attracted the attention of Australian collectors and he has enjoyed sell out solo exhibitions in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. His work is represented in private, corporate and public collections. He has been awarded the Art Gallery of New South Wales Gruner Prize in 1979 and again in 1985. Peter was the recipient of the Mosman Art Prize in 2004 and was selected as a finalist in the Art Gallery of NSW Sulman Prize in 2007. Peter worked as a sessional lecturer in painting and drawing at the National Art School, Sydney from 1983 to 2005. In 2017 he was finalist in the Mosman Art prize and Winner of the Kings School Art prize.