Peter Joseph might have been a philosopher. He was called to paint. His calling is not without philosophical moment. In a career now in its fiftieth year, he has established himself as perhaps the finest colourist to grace the practice of contemporary painting. It is said that the most notable artists only attend exhaustively to a handful of themes. Often enough, these emerge and are articulated as ensembles of paintings. Individual paintings can be seen to belong to a given ensemble by sharing features with all the other members of that ensemble. Consider Claude Monet – 25 studies on the play of autumn light on haystacks, 30 on the play of light across the façade of Rouen Cathedral, 250 bearing the name ‘Les Nymphéas’. Paul Cézanne – 40 paintings, the putative subject of which was ‘Mont Ste-Victoire’.
In our time, the list would include Peter Joseph, also, in a certain sense, a painter of light. His oeuvre falls into four great phases. Each ruptures from the previous while bearing within traces of its antecedents. All phases bear traces too of the bigger picture, in which the classical tradition of Western painting figures prominently, though far from exclusively. These, visual and verbal registers and the texture of the history in which they are inscribed, are the daily nourishment of this artist’s practice.
Today, the Mercus Barn is delighted to premiere the most recent paintings from the most recent phase. La Grange de Mercus is an artist-run project initiated by David Saunders. In person-years, the friendship of David and Peter, artists in arms, sparring partners, is coming up to celebrating its centenary. The conversation is conducted in the counterpoint of visual and verbal. Like all such enduring friendships, particularly those where there is communality of spirit in matters artistic and political it will, on occasion, have been tested by serious differences.
Each of the conversants is ‘on the left’ of the political spectrum. Peter cleaves to the system of philosophical idealism, David no less to that of philosophical materialism. Close friendships and solid comradeships have foundered on disagreement over fner points of difference between these two great systems. This is ultimately a political matter. Care in respecting differences, while tending to and nurturing what binds, is at heart of the politics of friendship.
The work presently celebrated at the Mercus Barn is in no small part a tribute to friendship, as a political practice, shored by care for the other. Past the age when many a painter settles for the risk-averse, mannered reprise of memorable bits of the back catalogue, the painting of this old master continues to break new ground, to surprise.
Ray Thomson, June 2015
Private view: 14 July, 2015
Exhibition: 14 July- 27 July, 2015
Peter Joseph - Recent Paintings
Peter Joseph is one of the finest colourists painting today. In his earlier, more geometrically constructed works, each colour, seen alone or as one of a pair, is distinguished by its rarity, its luminosity, by its almost romantic capacity to stimulate the senses and to arouse emotions.
Eminently retinal, his painting, without belonging to any particular current but sharing some affinities with minimalism and American colour-field, puts forward its own vision of expansion and expression. That is to say a form of free chromatic lyricism, sadly too little appreciated during these decades of conceptualist domination. It carries, with as much delicacy as fervour, a wave of freshness and fragrance that affects eye and mind.
His most recent paintings reinforces this feeling of airy lightness that works like a sort of benevolent gentle breeze because they take off by comparison with some earlier compositions. One could say that one gains a pictorial richness, a truth, of a natural elegance that consigns all affectation to oblivion.
It's a wealth that doesn't advertise itself as such, rather playing at discretion, even modesty, that reveals itself by the almost ethereal subtlety of colour and materials that is more intoxicating than seductive.
He shows, side by side, the preparatory drawings and collages in small format and the pictorial realisation on canvas. Two worlds for the same composition, the same image. The study and the execution that sublimates it. A double rapture.
Claude Lorent, 2014