From Velvety Depths: Graeme Peebles

Above: Graeme Peebles, Remember, 2010, 90 x 140 cm. Right: Graeme Peebles, Cave of the Green Aurochs, 2013-17, 30 x 50 cm. Below: Graeme Peebles, Drinking Straw Midden, 2017-18, 45 x 60 cm. Bottom: Graeme Peebles, The Swimmers, 2015-17, 60 x 90 cm.




Nicolas Rivet explores the depths of Graeme Peebles’ new exhibition.


Graeme Peebles had no plans to assemble another solo show in the short term, but when prompted about a potential exhibition for Queenscliff’s recent inaugural winter arts festival Low Light, he wanted to support his local community.

From Velvety Depths is a collection of Peebles’ recent and earlier works, and the title referencesthe nature of mezzotint, whose method involves roughening the metal plate with a rocker to create rich velvety background blacks.

Though the results are highly admired, the entire process is extremely time-consuming and requires an incredibly advanced set of skills to master. Peebles, however, has produced hundreds of mezzotints since he graduated from RMIT more than 40 years ago. Today, he is regarded as Australia’s leading artist in this medium.

‘I was attracted to mezzotint for a number of reasons,’ Peebles says. ‘Primarily [because of the] control I had over the image without having to use acids, along with the ability to do tonal rendering. In this sense, I find it similar to painting in the way that you can create the image.’

Peebles describes the show as ‘a bit of a survey exhibition’ as it embraces archaeological findings of ancient art and tries to establish a connection to current art and environmental themes. He explains how the work stems from the discovery of some 10,000-year-old abalone shells in a cave in South Africa that are believed to have held pigment for cave paintings.

‘It’s also reflective of shell middens which were fairly abundant where I grew up as a child in Tasmania,’ he says. ‘I guess it’s a way of looking at what we leave behind.’

While the exhibition features an array of Peebles’ work, a large part of it incorporates pieces he has produced over the past seven years as well as a few major pieces from the past twenty years. Notably, these include recent landscapes created in Italy’s Umbria, as well as a series of cloudscapes from the Snowy Mountains that were developed over a decade.

With so many works to consider, he finds it hard to name a favourite, but suggests that Remember—essentially a ‘memento mori’ piece of a mass of living fish fleeing from a dead one—is significant in the sense that it is the largest print he has ever worked on.

Though the individual pieces are complete, Peebles acknowledges that the collection is ‘still a work in progress’ and believes it will take another four or more  years before it is recognised as a complete body of work.

From Velvety Depths is at Queenscliff Gallery and Workshop until August 12.