Peter Hudson

The University of the Sunshine Coast Art Gallery is soon to host the largest career survey of Peter Hudson’s paintings to date. The exhibition shows us an artist whose work is both recognisably of this world – attentive to local cultures, people, and places – and constantly striving at some un-specifiable thing beyond it.

Peter Hudson’s portraiture is some of his most celebrated work. Finely attuned to the sensibility of each subject, and working deftly with oils, Husdon captures the odd ordinariness – the humanness – of our cultural icons. Take, for example, his portrait of Paul Kelly, which was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2007: Kelly’s polka-dotted button-up, brash and saccharine as it is, speaks of a character who is obviously conscious of his own self-presentation. But the deep eyes, with heavy brows rolling almost right over the top of them, above flushed cheeks, tell a more ambiguous (and, therefore, probably truer) story – one of a subject a little embarrassed to be looked at, perhaps, or one who is feeling something  they’re not quite willing to wear on the surface of their sleeve.

The University of the Sunshine Coast’s The mystery of being here includes this portrait, alongside notable others, like Archie Roach, 2008. Poignant, of course, in the weeks following Roach’s passing, the portrait shows a younger man than the memory that many of us would reach for, looking into the middle distance, his face illuminated in cold, clear light. These portraits are magical mostly for their total un-magical vision: a resolutely human one, full of frailty, doubt, and hesitation as much as they are full of the things that have made their subjects the “greats” of our contemporary culture.

Hudson’s work more broadly, though, also reaches for something far beyond – or perhaps, rather, far beneath – this abiding ordinariness. Hudson’s landscapes are in many instances those around his home in Maleny, including the Glass House Mountains, though they are never only literal: “It’s impossible to trap the power and beauty of nature,” he says. In his landscape works especially, then, figures float somewhere between mimetic representation and a more complex and uprooted symbology.

The titular elephant in Elephant and Cloud, 2015, for example, seems to be standing in for something – but what? – as it floats in the moving space of the picture, its tusk gleaming, with the horizon line (or is it a water line?) bending down to meet it. In The Passage, 2019, an impossible rock formation stretches up into a fleshy, pink sky. The shadows on its face appear, in moments, like eyes of the earth, watching the viewer. Hudson’s work with landscape is informed by his encounters with First Nations cultures; in 1998, he made his first visit to the Daguragu and Kalkarindji communities in the Northern Territory, and has been learning from the Gurindji people in the decades since then. In catalogue text for this exhibition, these encounters are given as one of Hudson’s key inspirations in his portrait work, as well as his landscapes.

Curated by Megan Williams, the exhibition will also be accompanied by a monograph on Hudson’s work, with contributions from Christine Toussainte Morrow, Carol Schwartzman, Jeff McCullen, Charlie Ward, and Kev Carmody. Together, the publication and exhibition program represent a significant body of work from an artist of local and national importance. 

The mystery of being here
19 August – 29 October 2022
University of the Sunshine Coast Art Gallery, Queensland

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