Hall on Tyndall
Doug Hall AM reflects on his decades-long relationship with Central Victorian artist Peter Tyndall, whose exhibition Peter Tyndall: SINCLAIR+GALLERY opens at CAM on Thursday 16 December 2021.
Join Peter Tyndall in conversation with curator Jenny Long on Saturday 18 December, 2pm-4pm at CAM.
To have known someone for five decades and never begun a conversation or correspondence with how’s yer health? marks a particular character of relationship. This is not to suggest that half marathons loom as a new enthusiasm but that complementary interests quickly take hold. Many of our conversations are not about art, but they’re frequently about things which have been the subject in art – or deserve to be.
Exactly fifty years ago my father organised a lecture by British philosopher Richard Wollheim (1923–2003) at the Bendigo Teachers’ College.1 Peter attended and came home – where I lived with my parents – for a drink with our guest. We remained in touch as we pursued somewhat complementary paths: I didn’t become an artist. After my two-decade stint in Brisbane, our contact gathered a renewed momentum, and now takes the form of several communiqués each week. That is how they are expressed … we’re smug enough to think that our reciprocity of ideas exchange, observations, often with images, is behaviour deserving of being indexed and filed away.
We were both raised in regional Victoria – Melbourne came later. I have no recollection of living in Kangaroo Flat in 1956, but much is easily recalled after the family moved to Castlemaine a year later. Peter’s family was ensconced in Kangaroo Flat … a triple fronted cream brick veneer house and, a stone’s throw away on the main street, Tyndall’s Pharmacy and Gift Palace was established.2 One hundred years earlier George Rowe traipsed through the Castlemaine Diggings to Bendigo. He depicted Kangaroo Flat as a clay-orange and mullock-grey panorama interspersed with tents and gnarly native vegetation. Landscape of this character still touches surrounding suburbia and Castlemaine too, thirty-five kilometres south.
Peter Tyndall: SINCLAIR+GALLERY: the space was named in honour of Beth Sinclair (1919-2014) who was director of the gallery between 1962 and 1975, and the first female director of any public gallery in Australia. I recall meeting her many times. She and her husband, Alex, and my parents became friends – I went to kindergarten, then a couple of years at North Castlemaine Primary School. Alex was my father’s principal at Castlemaine Technical College.
Beth was the daughter of RW Sturgess (1892-1932), a watercolourist of exceptional atmospheric subtlety whose subjects, including harbourside seascapes around his home at Newport and Williamstown, are quiet, idyllic vignettes. I have a vivid childhood recollection of visiting their home in Doveton Street and seeing her father’s work. I was probably six years of age, ignorant and awestruck. I am unable to think of any other early moment with such clarity which held my interest in the visual arts.
Peter’s idiosyncratic mind is ever curious, and he eschews anything which might be regarded as an intellectual shortcut for momentary acceptance. When he exhibited at Powell Street Gallery, South Yarra, in 1973 The Age’s art critic, Patrick McCaughey, was impressed, ‘… could emerge as a really substantive painter, not just a promising one’. In retrospect it seems impossible to imagine Peter as another rising acolyte of painterly abstraction, joining an ensemble of aesthetic groupthink to a dead end. Within three years or so he produced his first “meta” painting which we can now clearly see as the touchstone of his future.
Peter sees the world in ways unlike any artist I have known. We share interests – sometimes preoccupations – which influence the way we think and view particular subjects. His early interest in Tibetan Buddhism happened in the wake of an anxious and uncomfortable adolescent relationship with Catholicism. We both remain interested in religion, its history and its theological mutations. But never as living instruction.
My affection for Japan is well known. It is a shared interest with Peter, one which runs deeply. We both collect and we each own scrolls by Otagaki Rengetsu and Gibon Sengai, pre-WW1 member of the Australian cricket team, fast bowler, raconteur.3 Zen Buddhism recognises the connectedness and vastness of everything. It interweaves paradoxes, seeming contradictions, koans of sublime ridiculousness – humour is an unforced expression. Little wonder that our interest in Dada and Fluxus remains as strong as ever.
Peter’s thoughtful erudition and quiet courtesy might be misunderstood as living some kind of monk-like asceticism at Bonzaview in Hepburn Springs. Monday emails are fascinating in their analysis: ABC TV’s Rage from Saturday night including a roll call and rating of the music and videos. Australian Rules football, the weekend’s results and prospects for the next round, especially the Bombers. Wonderment at the linguistic meaningless of sectarian soundbite encyclicals as an expression of adversarial politics. Occasional observations about works in a forthcoming auction and why the history of Australian art has treated too many so poorly. It never stops.
Ours is a relationship where like-mindedness never consolidates to settle on things, shut down to seek the (dis)comfort of perpetual reassurance. Curiosity and not knowing is a far better option.
Peter Tyndall is represented by Anna Schwartz Gallery.
1. Richard Wollheim (1923−2003), British philosopher, specialised in mind and emotions, especially in the visual arts.
2. The original sign is Chemist TYNDALL. In the mid-50s his parents bought and demolished the old pub next door and built a curved glass “pharmacy and gift palace”. Images appear in Peter’s blog, bLOGOS/HA HA.
3. Otagaki Rengetsu (1791–1875) poet, potter, painter, martial artist and Buddhist nun; she took the name Rengetsu meaning Lotus Moon by which she is also known. Gibon Sengai (1750–1837) painter and Rinzai sect monk.