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Home Sweet Home: works from the Peter Fay collection

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Michelle Nikou:  The Kiss (after Munch)  1998
 
 
Michelle Nikou
The Kiss (after Munch) 1998, Peter Fay collection
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It is precisely this sense of adventure that appeals to Fay in the works he collects and in his own art. As the collection has grown it has come to encompass an extraordinary range of media: painting, drawing, photography, video and domestic-scale sculpture. Among the array of objects are Louise Weaver’s remarkable birds, Lola Ryan’s shell Harbour bridges and a variety of dolls. There are, for example, knitted dolls representing friends and family by artists from the Narrogin community including Mavis Bolton and Jean Riley, Val Sutherland’s expressive dolls at times encrusted with shells and Michelle Nikou’s haunting figures. Obsessive passions suggest darkness and luminosity. For Fay there is also a pervasive sense of poetry in the use of materials: ‘I’ve seen it in Rosalie’s work … and in Bill Culbert’s art: weaving magic out of found objects laden with memory … Then there are artists like Mikala Dwyer who can make the Winged victory out of seemingly very little or Neil Roberts who worked with unglamorous materials and found the poetry within it’.

Fay has always agreed with Rosalie Gascoigne’s maxim, ‘Make chance your friend’. In 1997 he took the opportunity, on the suggestion of a friend who knew of his interest in outsider art, to visit Arts Project Australia in Melbourne.9 Arts Project is an organisation dedicated to the creative development of artists with disabilities. There is studio space where artists can work and a gallery. The organisation also keeps exceptional archives of the artists’ works.10 From the start, Fay was excited by the way the place was run: ‘They are treated like artists ... You wouldn’t tell a so-called 'normal' artist (I say this dripping with irony) what to do and they don’t there. It was a key moment for me. It was all there. The works I saw were living testimony of the power of the mark on the page and what a strong thing that can be.’ Among the artists Fay acquired were John Northe, Jimmy Fuller, Dorothy Berry, Wayne Marnell and Leo Cussen.

Leo Cussen: Xena 2000  
 
Leo Cussen
Xena 2000, Peter Fay collection
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It is has been remarked that Cussen has a deep fascination with aspects of popular culture including the ‘Dr Who’ character from the television series of the same name and has produced a strong series of works based on this theme: ‘His work has an obsessive quality resulting from repeated use of words or phrases or in his intensive use of media. Within the context of art such focussed obsessions become a positive creative force.’11 Cussen’s charcoal on paper drawing Xena is composed of a densely worked sensuous black rectangle, with the white edge allowing the text to read through. In its mingling of abstraction with traces of the real and in its bold mark-making, a work like this provides striking parallels with other works in the collection such as those by MacPherson or a spirited drawing by the well-known British artist, Roger Hilton.

    By the mid 1990s Peter Fay had moved back to Sydney, to a house in Leichhardt. In recent years he has become passionate about the work of Slim Barrie, an artist introduced to him by Nigel Lendon. Lendon’s son Axel had found Barrie’s work in an op-shop in Lakes Entrance: a jewel-and-trinket-encrusted cardboard fishing boat. Fay’s collection reveals the range of Barrie’s art from brightly painted wooden sculptures to highly inventive works made out of cardboard decorated with all manner of found objects.

An important part of supporting artists is Fay’s need to expand awareness of their work and to this end he played an significant role in organising exhibitions of Slim Barrie’s work at the Helen Maxwell Gallery in Canberra and at Room 35, a space within the Gitte Weise Gallery in Sydney (where he has supported other exhibitions by emerging artists). Fay has been instrumental in introducing the work of artists to others such as Gallery Director Darren Knight. At times the critical responses have addressed the issue of showing the work of so-called outsider artists with their mainstream peers. In a review for the Sydney Morning Herald, Anne Loxley noted her enjoyment in thinking about ‘the similarities between Slim Barrie and such celebrated contemporary artists as Anish Kapoor and local heroes, Jenny Watson, Hany Armanious and Mikala Dwyer’ but ‘felt uneasy about the chasm between his art world’ and ‘the art world’ concluding, ‘Maybe that chasm is insignificant’.12

Peter Fay, too, seeks to overcome the idea that any perceived ‘chasm’ works against the art being seen on an equal footing by inviting the viewer to focus on the art itself and the artist’s passion for what he is doing. Of his own thoughts about Barrie, he says:

  Slim Barrie:  Lady driver 2000
 
 
Slim Barrie
Lady driver 2000, Peter Fay collection
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What I saw in Slim was a man whose life contains one thing and that’s art. There’s nothing else. It’s not art making for sale because that never entered into Slim’s head … His life was totally taken over with making art whether it be searching for cardboard or saving up to buy coffee with his limited budget and social skills. But that’s what his waking moments are about … I find that inspirational …

On a recent visit to Fay’s home prior to this exhibition, new works by an artist Gina Sinozich had appeared on the walls. Painted on immaculately worked surfaces they depict, in turn, a brilliant field of poppies and memories of her son as a child. Memory also figures strongly in a quite startling work by Lisa Reid from Arts Project: a striking portrait of herself at three months. As always on such visits there are surprises and multiple connections opening up between a range of art works in this continually rotating art ‘library’. As we talk and contemplate many of these works — in all their edginess, humour, energy and raw beauty — it becomes apparent that the exhibition Home Sweet Home: works from the Peter Fay Collection will convey, perhaps more than anything else, what it is to be human: our shared joys, passions and struggles seen through the artists’ diverse points of view and through the risk-taking and vision of a remarkable artist-collector.

Deborah Hart
Senior Curator
Australian Painting & Sculpture

With thanks to Peter Fay and Consultant Curator Glenn Barkley, University of Wollongong
All quotes from Peter Fay  are from an interview with Deborah Hart, 30 May 2003


1 Roger Cardinal, Marginalia: perspectives on outsider art, Museum De Stadshof, 2000, p. 58.
2 ibid., pp. 53–61 (the latter is a quote in Cardinal from collector and dealer Howard Rose).
3 Nigel Lendon, ‘Leaving a mark: the effects of Peter Fay’s passion’, Art Monthly Australia, no. 158, April 2003, p. 26.
4 ibid., p. 27.
5 Deborah Hart, ‘Peter Atkins: finding beauty in the everyday’, Art &Australia, vol. 39 no. 4, 2002, p. 571.
6 Trevor Smith (ed.), Robert MacPherson, Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2001, p. 59.
7 Lendon, op.cit., p. 28.
8 John Cruthers, ‘Peter Fay: a life in art’, Art & Australia, vol. 40, no. 4, 2003, p. 641.
9 Margaret Labi, an architect and the partner of artist Noel McKenna, talked to Peter Fay and encouraged this interest.
10 With thanks to Cheryl Daye for the information she provided about Arts Project.
11 The Inner View: principles and practices of an innovative program, Northcote (Melbourne): Arts Project Australia, Melbourne, 1988, p. 52.
12 Anne Loxley, ‘Recent masterworks, Gitte Weise Gallery’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 2002.

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