Peter BOOTH, Man seated on a fence Enlarge 1 /1


Sheffield, England born 1940

  • Australia from 1958

Man seated on a fence 2012 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Dimensions: 213.5 h x 91.0 w cm Framed 2135 h x 918 w x 40 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2013
Accession No: NGA 2013.4140

In a conversation with Peter Booth, he remarked on how silently snow falls.

In his painting Man seated on a fence, the man is perched high up. Holding on. Watching. This man on the fence is no snowflake. He is awkward, heavy, pensive. He is naked and doesn’t have the requisite number of toes. He is the outsider.

Of course, the man on the fence will never fall because, apart from being held captive in the painting, he is a metaphor, a personage on the stage of life. Yet, he is much more than a figment of imagination.

Like so much of Booth’s art, this ambivalent, watching man is wrought from experience that stretches back in time to his childhood and a much broader awareness that comes from being witness to the vicissitudes of human behaviour over half a century and more on this earth.

Born in 1940, Booth grew up in the British industrial town of Sheffield in the Second World War. It was a tough start for a young boy to see great poverty and hardship. To experience firsthand the devastating bombing by the Germans of the place you call home would inevitably leave an indelible impression.

Hearing about such memories of the past as well as a return visit to Sheffield in more recent times is to conjure bleakness. In his recent works, an eerie stillness emerges out of brilliant reds, black and white and now, more than ever, grey—sooty asphalt-grey like the fence in this painting.

Booth’s mature work has ranged across abstraction, apocalyptic figuration and, in more recent times, white, snow-covered landscapes such as Untitled 1999 in the national art collection

Man seated on a fence complements this earlier work, revealing that Booth remains one of our greatest contemporary artists, capable of conveying on a vast and intimate scale the precariousness of human existence with which we can all, at times, identify.

Deborah Hart Senior Curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture post 1920

in artonview, issue 76, Summer 2013