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Inside Peter Peryer's studio

Author: Courtney Johnston, Director
In which I visit photographer Peter Peryer's studio, and have my eyes opened in a special way.
Tamarillos outside Peter Peryer's house

Tamarillos outside Peter Peryer's house

A collection of ebony animals

A collection of ebony animals

File drawers - note 'Feral' prints

File drawers - note 'Feral' prints

Ferns (2011) and Elegans (2004)

Ferns (2011) and Elegans (2004)

A table topped with props and curios

A table topped with props and curios

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit New Plymouth as the guest of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, to give one of their Monica Brewster talks (the next will be by City Gallery Wellington curator Robert Leonard, and if you have any chance to attend, you should).

I was triply happy to go north; not only to spend some time with the GBAG team, but also because New Plymouth is my home town and all my family still live there, and also also because it is where Peter Peryer lives.

On 23 August this year we will be opening a show of Peter's photographs, curated by acting Senior Curator Sian van Dyk. The exhibition will shake hands with the past (Peter had his first public gallery exhibition at The Dowse in 1977, and images shown then will be included this year) while also bringing viewers right up to date with Peter's most recent work. Comprising about 55 photographs, the exhibition will be sounding out what Peter has described many times as 'congruence'; the way in which he is drawn over and over to certain subjects, compositions, and presentations of the world. As he has written

I can't help it, I keep taking photographs that remind me of photographs that I have taken before, although, always hopefully, the most recent will in flavour and tone at least, add something to its predecessor.

So I took the opportunity while in New Plymouth to visit Peter at his home studio. I have been an avid follower of Peter's work ever since I found out about New Zealand art, and even more so after he generously began blogging about it, sharing with all readers new works and olds, thoughts and experiences and ways of working. 

At the top of the post I have reproduced a few photos I took at Peter's. It took me a while before I could even get past the front door, where that tamarillo tree is planted. The resonant colour, the heavy globes, the bright sun casting sharply defined shadows on the white weatherboards: I had been transported straight into Peter World. For the whole of the visit I felt like my visual acuity was extraordinarily sharpened; Peter's home is full not only of his photos, but props he has collected or been given that appear in past works or are being mulled over for the future.

Everywhere I looked there was a Peter Peryer photo: either printed out and pinned to the wall for consideration, or just hovering there, waiting for my eyes to line it up and snap it. One of the photos above, for example, shows Fern (2011) and Elegans (2004) (congruence!) pinned to either side of a niche holding a chicken figurine, brought home by Peter as a possible subject for a future day. In any other context my eye would have passed over the chicken, but here it sent me into an involuntary riffle through my visual database, flicking through all the examples of Peter's work I could think of that contain toys and small sculpted objects. These 'snap' moments occurred time and time again as Peter kindly talked me round the rooms, to the point where I reached reverentially with a fingertip to touch a shell lying on a table (you know how important shells are in Peter's work) only for him to delightedly point out to me that it was a cheap plastic replica acquired from a pet store, usually destined for an aquarium.

That shell is sitting in my office now, as we prepare for the show. We might not be able to take you all to Peter's home, but we do look forward to sharing the unique way he sees the world with you.

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