Peter of the Bay

The exhibition wasn’t shouty shouty like the seasonal masterpieces at our nation’s great galleries, but it did make my in-flight mag as I flew my way to Harbour City. I took note and duly visited. It was, on reflection, somewhat more ‘how’s your father’ to those curated within-an-inch-of themselves behemoths of the annual arts calendar of must sees. But I’m glad this more cobbled together affair I went to on Virgin’s recommendation at the dusty Sydney Museum was on, for I loved it – the possibly deliberate cobbled togetherness being part of its charm for me. Maybe the SM’s curators knew something after all.

It was centred around a couple of in your face canvasses by Brett Whiteley, that raucous demon child of the Australian art scene for a couple of decades late last century. We all know him and his precocious talents, his oeuvre ranging from the bombastic to the banal, the latter coming more to the fore as he sank further into his drug induced stupor.

Lavender Bay has a lovely ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s a small indentation in the Harbour, close to Luna Park and the home to Wendy’s Secret Garden, on my wish list for another visit (Wendy being Brett’s wife who managed to drag herself up out of the abyss of drug-taking – something hubby could never manage).

The Sydney Museum, despite its lack of interior grandeur, is a delightful venue for any showing. Last time I’d spent an hour or two perusing a showing about the criminal underbelly of the city in times past, far grittier and greasier than the tele series based on those same felons that was popular a while back. And now there was this one.

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Lavender Bay. It’s not up there with Heide or Heidelberg as an instantly recognised centrepiece for artistic endeavour and the shenanigans of Australia’s art legends – but perhaps it should be. Those curators, at the Museum, did their darnedest to make it so. And yes, Whiteley was the star turn, but it was a lesser known figure whose work fascinated me. He partook of the fun and games at Whiteley’s, but also lived to tell the tale. All gravitated to that rowdy home back in the 70s and 80s – Australian celebs, overseas names wanting a taste of the local wild side of life; as well as the usual hangers-on and wannabes hoping a bit of Whiteley’s bad boy rep would rub off on them.

But, on quieter days, the area and closeness to the icon attracted some with real and lasting artistic chops – Tim Storrier, Gary Shead, John Firth-Smith and Tom Carment. Some of those I encountered for the first time on that balmy Sydney day.

I could do an unhurried ramble around this showing unimpeded by the crush that infects the big galleries when a major is on. There were only a few other souls viewing and I liked that. I could even get up close to the BWs. But for me the day belonged to someone more subdued – almost the antithesis. His name – Peter Kingston.

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There was a goodly range of his works there – sketches, drawings and what can only be described as cartoons, as well as paintings. He had a whimsical eye for his corner of the metropolis and its denizens, even including the four-legged variety. There was a focus on the harbour too, with special attention given to the little wooden ferries that once serviced Lavender Bay. I was to read later he fought long and hard to keep these old boats running after the bean-counters demanded they be scrapped. To help remember them by, in their hey-day, we have a hokey film that Shead made with a youthful Kingston starring as a Phantom-like figure engaged in daring escapades, some of it set on one of the venerable ferries. I watched a little of it that day, but it was pretty ordinary. There also remains, though, his lovely drawings and paintings of the small vessels.

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Today he is still a feature of the city’s art scene. He has an affinity with Luna Park nearby. He was part of the design team working to refurbish it up until the horrific events of 1979 occurred when six children died in the Ghost Train Fire. It still weighs heavily

Made in Plasticine and cast in bronze, the artist now has turned his hand to making unique chess sets on various themes. There’s one based on Popeye and another, an Aussie comic set with Magic Pudding, Snugglepot, Cuddlepie, Ginger Meggs and Blinky Bill to the fore. There is, too, an ssemblage that he keeps close to his heart in a functioning Ghost Train.

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So do go on-line and Google in Peter Kingston’s Artworks, click on images and I assure you that you too will be entranced. The results you’ll find are not flash nor reeking of colour like his mate Whiteley’s. His are toned down, more subtle and detailed. For you see his Lavender Bay wasn’t as brash as that of the more famed dauber. As much as I admire the departed famous one, I’m thankful for that.

More of Peter’s art works = https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/?artist_id=kingston-peter

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