Peter Tyndall at Buxton Contemporary

Peter Tyndall is a hedgehog (in reference to Archilochus: πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing”). He knows one big thing.

He has been expanding on that one thing ever since he painted his sign over one of his colour field paintings in the late 70s. Ever since then he has named all of his paintings the same (only the date and the courtesy acknowledgement vary):

Someone looking at something is Tyndall’s big idea. It implicates that the viewer is part of the art. The viewer becomes a responder, a person who is anticipated by the existence of the work, just as a letter has an anticipated reader.

Playful, inventive and fun, Tyndall made his conceptual art visually identifiable. When turned on its side, his visual tag of a box with two lines becomes a diamond, a pattern that can be repeated across his work. Even the elevator at Buxton Contemporary had a variation of this pattern.

And there is plenty to see at his first major retrospective at Buxton. The first room shows what Tyndall was painting before his conceptual break; large colour field paintings, mostly in tan. And then the missing link, the painting modified with the inclusion of a symbol Tyndall would use for the rest of his career, the box with two lines, representing a painting hung on a wall.

The way that paintings are hung is important for Tyndall, generally with two long black wires that extend from the top of the painting to screws further up the wall. The label beside the painting became part of the art. His labels are all labelled “Label.” All his labels are identical (only the information about the date and courtesy varies) because they are all details in his single lifelong work.

A good retrospective should show other sides of the artist. There is Tyndall’s mail art, his slave guitar, cast objects, and those on his sculptural wall hangings, made for and exhibited at Venice Biennale in 1988. There are his political engagements with the world, notably his campaign to end the ban on sketching at the NGV and a piece responding to a City of Mildura Councillor complaining that they didn’t get their share of “the cultural dollar”.

But wait, there is more; as part of the retrospective, there are a series of free zines of artwork by Peter Tyndall produced as a “Graphic Design Studio 3” project by Graphic Design majors at the University of Melbourne. 

What was not shown at the exhibition was Tyndall’s blog: Blogos/HAHA. His blog is a work of art and is updated regularly. See my blogroll.

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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