Peter McDonald's work explores the human condition through a brightly coloured world of indeterminate characters presented in imaginary settings. Featureless, balloon-like heads are combined with imagery McDonald has gleaned from newspapers, magazines and everyday scenes, creating a unique pictorial language and a piercing insight into the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of modern society.
While much of McDonald's work documents figures in daily situations, such as at the hairdresser, in a tube station, or playing snooker, the present work, executed in 2004, takes on a more conceptual vocabulary. Made up of an abstract web of indices at once haphazard and precise, confusing and logical, The Sculpture focuses on the whirring cogs of the human mind. The matrix of interlocking forms are a nod to the work of Sue Williams and present McDonald's vision of the internal reflections of the individual psyche as it computes the external world. The disclosure of each figure's mental processes also generates a conceptual three dimensionality, a literal 'sculpture' of each figure's mental experience of life which is expressive of both the chaos and excitement of modern society. Moreover, the inflated and transparent ovoid of the figure's head on the left continues well beyond the perimeters of the canvas and out into the viewer's plane, thus creating an intimate dialogue between the viewer, the figure and the figure's thoughts. The translucent quality of the paint also invites the viewer further into the illusory space deep within the composition and McDonald has explained that this trademark transparency 'helps depict the dissolution of boundaries between people and their environment' (the Artist, quoted in The Observer, 20 September 2009).
Awarded the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize in 2008 for his work Fontana - a depiction of the artist Lucio Fontana slashing an ovoid canvas - McDonald undertook a residency at Southwark Underground station in London in 2009. The resulting mural, Art for Everybody, was a vibrant and monumental thirty-seven metre frieze inspired by the lively London underground staff and visitors to the nearby Tate Modern. Just as in The Sculpture, the artist's facility for acute observation and intuitive colouring were perfectly captured, culminating in McDonald's characteristic combination of irreverence and insight. Indeed, as he himself has observed, 'seeing, hearing, feeling – all this gives you a way into some sort of vision' (the Artist, quoted in The Observer, 20 September 2009).
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