Peter CHURCHER, The burial Enlarge 1 /1


Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1964

The burial 2000 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on linen Support: linen

Dimensions: 212.0 h x 235.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2000
Accession No: NGA 2000.451

From the very outset I could only paint one way – directly from observation of the physical world around me. The figure, with all its humanistic and dramatic qualities, has always been a central concern of mine. As a figurative painter during the last years of the 20th century, I have been compelled to ignore modernist or ‘contemporary’ orthodoxies and redefine my own contemporary vision of painting by looking back to the tradition of the grand figure compositions of European painting which I have, somewhat brokenly, inherited.

From the earliest years in my painting career, I have undertaken the challenge of painting large-scale multi-figure compositions. Some of the inherent problems include: the problematic relationship between the narrative or ‘story-telling’ versus ‘pure’ painting concerns of composition and form; the technical problems of spatial relationships within the picture plane; and artifice versus realism.

My painting, The burial, marks for me a culmination of earlier forays into the large-scale figure composition. The starting point for this work was a personal reaction to two strongly divergent events witnessed from my own everyday world: the first, a newspaper photograph of a drive-by shooting in Wollongong; the second, my father-in-law’s graveside funeral. As preliminary drawings took place, the composition quickly took on a life of its own – in no way could the picture simply be a recreation of these two events. It had to exist on its own as an ‘abstract’ human composition, yet, of course, still retaining narrative elements that evoked my original emotional response.

Visual elements drawn from the original two sources – the crossed shovels stuck in a pile of earth, the black-suited men against shirtless youths, the gathered huddle of observers, activity versus passive watching-by – all these became crystallised and interwoven to form the ambiguous human composition I came to call The burial.

Peter Churcher, 2002

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002