Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 August 2019


born 1940

oil on canvas

111.5 x 182.5 cm

signed, dated and inscribed verso: FOR MONIKA PETER BOOTH 1983

$30,000 – 40,000
Sold for $31,720 (inc. BP) in Auction 58 - 28 August 2019, Sydney

Pinacotheca Gallery, Melbourne
Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne
Private collection, Sydney
Sotheby’s, Sydney, 29 November 1993, lot 233
Private collection, Sydney
Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 4 March 2003, lot 24
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Peter Booth has produced a large and powerful body of paintings and drawings sublimating a critical view of contemporary society into expressive and stylistically rigorous artworks. A key figure in the revival of figurative painting in Melbourne in the 1980s, Booth’s reputation as one of Australia’s most renowned contemporary painters was cemented in the early years of that decade. In 1982 he was chosen (alongside Rosalie Gascoigne) to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale, was heralded as the ‘star’ of Eureka!, a seminal survey show of Australian art at the Serpentine Gallery, London, and went on to be included in another, Australian Visions, at the Guggenheim in 1984. Unperturbed by this torrent of accolades, Booth continued to steadfastly create monumental canvases depicting bizarre apocalyptic visions, populated by fantastic ghouls and strewn with cryptic symbols from his own personal lexicon.

Painting 1983 (Apocalyptic Landscape), 1983 is an energetic painting, endowed with a rough and sculptural urgency. Painted using a wet-on-wet process, Booth has left in full view the force with which new paint has been dragged through an already laden surface. With a reduced palette, Booth’s view is totally imagined, yet portrayed with a raw immediacy. These stylistic qualities closely align Booth’s work of the early 1980s with that of Neo-Expressionist painters overseas, particularly in Germany, for example Anselm Kiefer, Jörg Immendorff and Georg Baselitz, all of whom displayed works in the 1982 Sydney Biennale. Extant critical support overseas for this form of expressionism certainly contributed to Booth’s rapid notoriety. Donald Kuspit, the celebrated American critic, in writing of German Neo-Expressionism in a 1982 edition of Art in America, identifies the powerful attraction of such works – ‘It is clearly an art about the power of paint to create a perverse poetry – the power of paint to conjure images that overpower and force the spectator to look beyond his ordinary perception’.1

Leon Paroissien, in his review of Australian Art between 1982 – 1983, writes that Booth’s apocalypse paintings reveal the artist’s pessimistic view of the general state of society.2 While global preoccupations such as cold war tensions, widespread deforestation and mass unemployment certainly fed into contemporary art worldwide, it is likely that Booth’s dazzling inferno and devastation of Painting, was inspired by closer concerns, particularly the Ash Wednesday bushfires that ravaged Victoria and South Australia in February of 1983.3 Save for a few figures, licked by comic-book red flames, the landscape that appears beneath inky-black skies is almost completely obscured by flaming orbs, projectiles and explosive impacts. Beyond the frightening nature of Booth’s dystopia, one can find a sense of freedom in its execution. Rosalie Gascoigne certainly recognised this quality, writing in 1989: ‘it looks… as if the artist really enjoyed putting in … the lavish colours and lurid details!’.4

1. Kuspit, D., Art in America, New York, no. 7, Sept 1982, p. 142
2. Paroissien, L (ed.), Australian Art Review 2, Warner Associates Pty Ltd with Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1983, p. 10
3. Holloway, M., ‘Calmer Booth Reverses Expectations’, The Age, Melbourne, 9 November 1983, p. 14
4. Gascoigne, R., Peter Booth Drawings 1977 – 1987, Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne, 1989