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Vale Peter Maloney

We are deeply saddened to hear of Peter Maloney’s passing late on Sunday evening. Peter was a beloved member of the Canberra arts community – a teacher, mentor and friend to many Canberra based artists. During his years working as a lecturer at the ANU School of Art, Peter inspired many through his dedication to painting, his enthusiasm for music, his DIY ethos and his embrace of various counter cultures. Peter’s youthful spirit and humour endeared him to his students and to many young emerging artists whom he sought to support and foster at every opportunity. He was well known for consoling students or fellow members of staff with his famous aphorism “It’s only art school.” Yet his wry sense of humour was delicately counter-balanced by an understanding that art is fundamental and vital.

In his lifetime Peter produced a remarkable body of work that swerves from print and photography to painting, collage, sound and installation. Despite its varied nature and wide range of materials, Peter’s voice remains clear and distinct throughout his oeuvre. At times his work is direct, disarming and generous in its honesty, at other times it appears fragile, wounded or damaged – yet Peter’s work is consistently underpinned by a strong sense of the personal and of the intimate. Diaristic in its nature, his body of work is imbued with a closeness and a tenderness that is revealing to the viewer. “I always find it hard to divorce the art from the circumstance of my life” he said. Possessing a deft sense of touch and a highly attuned gift for composition, Peter also showed sensitive consideration for his materials, be they found antique photographs, discarded photocopies, biro doodles, cut out headlines, fields of mirror finish graphite, or the exalted ground of a sheet of drawing paper. Peter treated his materials and his subjects with great care and appreciation and those qualities shine through in the art as much as they did in the man himself.

Despite many years of poor health, Peter remained engaged and enlivened by his art practice – there were always new works under consideration in his home studio and always new ideas to share and discuss.

The Drill Hall Gallery extend our heartfelt condolences to his partner Mark and to the many people that held him dearly.

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In 2018 the Drill Hall Gallery presented the exhibition Peter Maloney: Missing in Action which centred around a forgotten body of works on paper that Peter created in the early 1990s at the height of the Sydney HIV/AIDS epidemic.  The following extract is drawn from a conversation between Peter Maloney, Terence Maloon and Tony Oates that was published in conjunction with the exhibition:

TM: Can we backtrack to something you said earlier? You said you were searching for yourself in what you were doing. Over time you achieved a very remarkable economy of means in those gestural drawings, which is something that really shines out for us. Yet it doesn’t really seem to me that you were searching for an individual “voice” in those works, some imprint of “personality”, “character” or “temperament” or whatever. However I do get a very strong sense of you seeking confirmation of your powers, confirmation of your power to achieve synthesis, unity, clarity.

PM: Those works were very direct in the way they were made. There’s a vital connection between each addition of a mark and the next action that will follow it, building up the composition and developing a space that holds the drawing together. I see it as a way of rationalising where you are at a particular point in time. I know I had no thought whatsoever of an audience or a reviewer, or of how anyone was going to respond to those drawings.

TO: If you were imagining somebody looking over your shoulder and making you self-conscious, you would never be able to work like that.

PM: No, you wouldn’t. It was my game and it was a very significant game for me. I never actually arrived at a sense of completion or resolution. It was like the donkey with the carrot. I never reached the goal because there was always something in the way. There was an ideal I was chasing, but I would trip myself up on the way. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning and to start again – and it necessitated going over the same territory time and again. I mean, we’ve rejected a lot of work and tried to pick out the best ones for this exhibition…

TO: Yes, but we could make three or four shows from the works we’ve seen without affecting the level of quality and interest all that noticeably.

TM: That’s true. But Peter, that kind of gestural abstraction was completely out of fashion when you arrived in Sydney.

PM: Oh, it was terribly out of fashion. There were one or two people who liked what I did. I did exhibit my work at the Legge Gallery, where I showed mostly paintings, but occasionally works on paper too. I was doing it from a kind of … I thought it was from an outsider’s point of view – you know: “gay man does heroic work”. That doesn’t make any sense to you?

TM: You know, from my point of view there’s always been a neurotic and put- downish aspect in your self-rationalisation. Still, the idea must have been real enough to motivate your work and it didn’t get in the way of your dedication and devotion and discipline and integrity of purpose, which I see as a kind of monastic thing – you know, like saying your prayers or doing your yoga or meditation. You would go every day to the studio and do your thing. You developed a rigorous practice that enabled extraordinary qualities to emerge in your work.

PM: On the other hand I loved the nightlife in Sydney, which didn’t start until one or two o’clock in the morning. Club 80 was just up the road from the studio and I would go there occasionally, and bars stayed open late into the night, but I was a bit of a loner. I would set myself up in a corner with a few beers and not talk to anybody for hours on end, just taking it in, you know? And going to rock and roll concerts… But at the forefront was my work – and, as a young gay man living in the ghetto and having friends who lived in the ghetto, I didn’t have much to talk about with people, because they weren’t interested in the kind of things that I was interested in. The studio practice was my church. It fed me something that was going to… it was not going to break with the rest of my life, the outside experiences, but it was going to add something worthy and ensure that something worthy was going to come out of all the horrible things that were happening in Sydney at the time: you know – the HIV pandemic. It was a very fearful time. Strangely, I was not afraid for myself; I was afraid for other people and I was afraid for the world, but never afraid for myself. I was actually a very funny person…

Click the link below to read the full interview.

The Drill Hall Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.