Peter Simpson was born in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, in 1951. He grew up living mostly in Sydney and began creating artworks at the age of thirteen. In 1976 Simpson moved to Melbourne, and in the following year he enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), where he was taught by painters Geoff Lowe and Michael Shannon, the latter becoming a mentor and major influence on his early painting career. While at RMIT, Simpson turned to the then relatively unfashionable genre of landscape painting. After graduating from RMIT, he enrolled in a Graduate Diploma in Painting at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Melbourne, where he was tutored by Peter Booth and Paul Partos. Simpson was noted for his draughtsmanship at the VCA and was awarded the institution’s 1984 Drawing Prize.
After completing his formal art education, Simpson began to paint landscape panoramas of the pastoral lands on the northern fringes of Melbourne; these, often dramatic, works included views of Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport and the distant city. Simpson had his first solo show in 1988, exhibiting early landscapes from around the Meredith area west of Melbourne. In 1990, he showed a series of works which included the airport paintings, among them Hillside Behind Tullamarine (1989), which was purchased by Artbank. By the early 1990s Simpson was experimenting with scenes of maritime industry. Many of these docklands works were shown at his third show, 'Along the Riverrun’ (1992), at the Powell Street Gallery, Melbourne. This exhibition was followed by a successful 1993 show titled 'West’, in Canberra, where he showed the bare hills of the capital juxtaposed against the urban sprawl of the suburbs.
After the 1993 death of close friend Robert Wardrop, Simpson briefly experimented with abstract images inspired by jigsaw puzzles. These radically different pencil and mixed media works were exhibited at Melbourne’s Flinders Lane Gallery in 1995. Soon after this show he decided to move to Sydney where – like many other visiting landscape artists – he began to paint Sydney Harbour. Simpson initially struggled depicting such a clichéd picture book setting, but persevered with the theme. This period saw him produce images of the harbour divorced from its human footprint. These oil and pastel images were exhibited at the Mary Place Gallery, Sydney in 1998.
For Simpson, an important career changing work was Summer Landscape (1997), which was painted in northern Victoria. This oil painting motivated Simpson to move away from maritime themes and concentrate on inland hillside subjects. In 2003 the artist was awarded a residency at the Arthur Boyd studio at Bundanon, New South Wales. Works from this residency were exhibited at the Brian Moore Gallery, Sydney, later the same year. The twilight painting Late Afternoon, Bundanon (2003) was purchased by Artbank, and was chosen as the official 2003 Christmas card for the Environment Minister, Senator Rod Kemp. Simeon Kronenberg, who had been the Arts Programs Manager at The Bundanon Trust, wrote an essay on Simpson’s work around that time, which was published in the 2003 Brian Moore Gallery exhibition catalogue. In this article Kronenberg touched on the melancholy and sense of loss often found in Simpson’s work:
“Simpson’s work forces us to come to terms with the impact of colonial men on the Australian terrain… While not being in any sense declamatory or strident, his sensitive and tender landscapes inhabit a world that is at times melancholic and apprehended within a deep sense of loss.”
From 2004 Simpson began to regularly paint the area around Mount Darling, half way between Cowra and Crookwell in New South Wales, an area that dominated his imagery around that time. After the death of gallery owner Brian Moore in 2003, Simpson began exhibiting at the Arthouse Gallery, Sydney, as well as continuing his relationship with the Flinders Lane Gallery in Melbourne. One painting from this time, Towards Cowra from Mt Darling, was hung in the Cowra Regional Gallery’s 2008 'Calleen Acquisition Exhibition’ and won the People’s Choice Award.
Simpson is a quietly spoken, intellectual artist with an impressive knowledge of the history of art, who is deeply interested in the work of fellow artists. He has always preferred the traditional medium of oil paint, rather than the more popular acrylics. His palette is often subdued and is dominated by earth colours. As well as oils, the artist is a skilled exponent of other media, including pastels, watercolour and pencil. For Simpson’s smaller images, the artist often works en plein air, while his larger landscapes are painted onto stretched linen in his inner city Sydney studio on an easel that was once owned by his former teacher Michael Shannon.
In April 2009 Simpson, along with a group of nine other leading artists, was invited by Artist Profile magazine, in association with the art materials company Winsor and Newton, to take part in a painting trip of New Zealand’s North Island, with an exhibition of works from this trip planned to tour New Zealand and Australia in 2010.
- Clifford-Smith, Silas
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