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Michael Peck’s large oil paintings feel both comfortable and unsettling. ‘Really good artworks allow us to engage with our anxieties,’ he says. Dreamlike landscapes show children using objects associated with war and conflict – guns, soldiers helmets and aviators’ hats – as toys and dressing up clothes, or dressed as badge-adorned scouts poised uncertainly on an invisible threshold to adulthood. Their expressions are inscrutable; innocent yet hinting at the realizations that adult experience will bring.
In this series of paintings the world has been reclaimed by nature, buildings are over grown, concrete structures have fallen and levees collapsed to create expansive floodplains. It is desolate and beautiful. This is an oneiric version of reality where the familiar has begun to dissolve and make way for a more contemplative – and in some cases cinematic – landscape.
The protagonist in these paintings is the scout. Dressed in uniform and adorned in merit badges, the scout romantically takes on an identity; caring, heroic, independent and prepared for adversity. Yet, in a realm somewhere between childhood and adulthood the scout is also naïve and lost. He could never be prepared for this ‘new world’ and is left bravely searching for meaning in a hostile and uncertain wasteland.
Peck makes several preparatory pen and ink drawings before starting his canvases, beginning with the background and darkest layers then adding paler highlights in opaque shades and layers of glaze to create luminosity. His limited palette – black and white, sepia or shades of red and orange – makes his work feel timeless.
In 2012 Peck was a finalist in both the Archibald and Doug Moran National Portrait Prizes. He has twice been a Sulman Prize finalist and has undertaken private commissions in London, New York, Melbourne and Sydney. This is his first exhibition with Michael Reid Berlin.