gouache on paper
61.5 × 52cm sheet
Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of Irene Sutton 2005
These preparatory sketches were made by Peter Kennedy for his exhibition of neon light-works, Neon Light Installations, at Sydney’s Gallery A in 1970. Kennedy started out as a painter in the late-1960s, but his interests shifted in the direction of more open-ended experiments with sound, vision and space by the end of the decade. His adoption of neon light as a material offered a new visual mode, and the possibility of experimenting with different materials, ideas and synergies. Neon was a new medium when Kennedy took it up in the 1970s, and like pop art, it spoke to the pervasive effects of advertising and to the growing culture of consumption and consumerism in the western world. Kennedy’s experimental use of the medium was in step with the light and video art of the 1960s and the growing importance of kinetic and electronic art of the 1970s.
Neon Light Installations was one of the first examples of installation art in Sydney. An emergent aspect of this innovative practice was its focus on the value of documentation; of constantly recording all the stages and affects of the work through a variety of means. Kennedy documented his installations through slides, photographs, films and sketches. Such documentation had an aesthetic aspect and was considered an important element of the work as a whole. Preparatory sketches such as these are accomplished works on their own, as well as offering valuable insight into the artist’s thought processes and planning of this work.
Neon Light Installations was, essentially, an aesthetic experience. Minimal in character, engagement with it would have required openness to one’s immersion – both spatial and luminal – in the work and maybe something like transcendence was hovering, on offer, as well.
Peter Kennedy, 2008
Born 1945, Brisbane, Queensland. Lives and works Melbourne.
Peter Kennedy began exhibiting in the mid-1960s and by the end of that decade had begun to forge new territory in Australia through his conceptually aligned art practice and light-based installations. He was one of the first Australian artists to work with light as installation, creating immersive environments through minimalist arrangements of coloured neon tubes. Since this time, his experimental, ground-breaking body of work has encompassed installation, performance, photography, sound, video and drawing. In the late-1970s his practice became more politically engaged and activist in nature, exploring and interrogating actual political events. Later works have encompassed notions of death and mortality from both historical and personal perspectives.
Kennedy has exhibited widely both in Australia and overseas. He was a founding member of Sydney’s avant-garde artist-run gallery, Inhibodress, in the early 1970s and was Director of the University of Sydney Art Workshop (The Tin Sheds) from 1980 to 1985. In 2002 the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne held a retrospective survey of his work, Peter Kennedy: Selected Works 1970–2002; the solo exhibition Peter Kennedy: Light Years 1970–71 was presented at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane in 2011.
Recent group exhibitions include Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013); Sweet Spot, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2009); Gallery A Sydney: 1964–1983, Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW, Newcastle Regional Gallery, NSW (2009); Figuring Landscapes, International Centre for Fine Art Research, University of the Arts, London (2008); and The Far Side of the Moon, McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, Langwarrin (2007). His works are held in Australian state gallery and university collections and in international collections, including the Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Tate Gallery, London; and National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.Learn more