In Michael Peck’s new exhibition, Beautiful Barricade, floral motifs are superimposed over unexpected objects of war. The floral patterning, appropriated from wall paper and textile design, suggests the rarefied interiors of luxury living. The resulting paring of object and design suggest broader issues; the seduction of power, the true cost of luxury and security. Peck’s floral pattern here acts as a curtain; a beautiful barricade.
In Freedom Fighter #1, #2, and #3 the floral pattern extends over a facedown strike fighter jet aircraft with the scrolled foliage neatly substituting military camouflage. The juxtaposition of beauty and violence is obvious here, but visually it does not jar. The war machine, like the floral pattern, is a refined achievement in successful design. In Love Song #1 and #2 we see the elegant figure of a dancer hidden by flowers petals, only limbs visible. Placed within the wider exhibition, these two dancers present uneasy questions about the cost of high-culture and the pursuit of beauty. The role of the artist then is apparent, as Peck works through the complexities of that unique privilege. The final work, In Bloom offers a hopeful direction; a child looks into the distance reminding the audience of the potential for change that comes from youth, a key theme throughout Peck’s career.
This series extends upon Peck’s previous work whereby he challenges dichotomies. In Love & Fear, 2014; and It’s Not That It Burns, 2010, we see children at play with objects of conflict and violence. The naivety of the figure and its connection to place and environment is another important aspect to Peck’s work. In the series Scout, presented at Michael Reid Berlin in 2016, the independent and heroic scout searches a wasteland, clearly overwhelmed by his surroundings. Similarly, Therefore I am, 2017, a finalist work in the Sir John Sulman Prize (Art Gallery NSW), illustrated how memory and history influence our view of the world.
Until 2016 Peck has primarily employed monochrome palettes in sepia, vermillion and black and white, always with highly detailed brushwork and refined composition. The use of colour in Beautiful Barricade is an important marker in Peck’s career, both stylistically and thematically. It has enriched both the painting surfaces and stretched the conceptual breadth of his approach. It shows one of Australia’s best figurative painters growing in confidence and continually driving his practice forward.