Peter Booth (Australian, born England, 1940)
Oil on canvas; 48 x 96 in. (121.9 x 243.8 cm)
Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Roy B. Simpson Gift, 1986 (1986.219)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VI$COPY, Australia
Peter Booth was born in Sheffield, England, in 1940. The son of a steelworker, he was familiar with the industrial landscape of northern England at an early age. He attended the Sheffield College of Art before his family emigrated to Australia in 1958. There, Booth worked as a laborer for several years and then entered the National Gallery School in Melbourne.
In the early 1970s, Booth painted hard-edged abstractions of dark rectangles, primarily in black to signify social alienation. By 1977, however, he had begun working in figurative and landscape imagery as well as abstraction, and he continues to explore both directions to this day. In some works, Booth's landscapes are peopled by strange mutant-like humanoid figures, which interact in violence or walk alone in isolation. In other works, such as Desert, the landscapes are more abstract, filled with recurring forms that resemble elements in some personal code.
Booth's interest in the individual's potential both to dream and to destroy has been influenced by several earlier movements in art. One is the nineteenth-century European tradition of visionary Romanticism, as exemplified by the work of Francisco Goya and William Blake. Another is Abstract Expressionism, with its gestural handling and its release of forms from the artist's subconscious.
Booth's subject matter, however, is unique to his own experience. In Desert, as in many of his landscapes, he looks to the prehistoric terrain of the Australian outback. Here he has interpreted its landscape as an uninhabitable territory marked with dead trees, thorn bushes, rocks, and animal skeletons. A lone cross-shaped form rises from the ground near the center of the composition. The environment of Desert appears apocalyptic, as though we are viewing it in the aftermath of some terrible natural or man-made disaster. As in much of his work, Booth has conjured up a mysterious world between the observed and the imagined.