Portrait Of The Artist: Peter Denmark

To mark the opening of a new exhibition of the late artist’s work at Paul Smith Albemarle Street, learn more about his idiosyncratic use of form, colour and composition and why joy is at the heart of Peter’s paintings.

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‘Where do you get your inspiration from?’ As questions go, it’s perhaps one of the most common an artist gets asked in his lifetime. For the late Peter Denmark, the answer was perhaps irrelevant. Though he was a great admirer of many artists and was inspired deeply by them, his own work is rarely about storytelling, instead preferring the emphasis to be on the purity of the composition, colour and form. He felt the paintings could speak for themselves rather than he speak for them.

In this vein, he was also disinclined to give his pieces titles. In homage, the new exhibition of his paintings at Paul Smith Albemarle Street in Mayfair London follows suit – fittingly titled “Untitled”.

So don’t let their seeming simplicity fool you: these are complex, absorbing pieces. “They are simultaneously flat and deep, hard and soft – and this mystery adds to their charm,” as Farah Rahim Ismail put it in Art Review when he interviewed Peter back in 2002 on the eve of a solo show at The Groucho Club.

Beginning his career on the commercial side of things – responsible for the artwork which shaped the corporate identity through logos and campaigns for various companies like Lloyds Bank and BT, Peter was clearly influenced by the clarity of graphic design. But, as Gill says, that work often got in the way of his preferred medium: painting. “He kept the two very much apart,” Gill explains. “His heart was only really in the painting.”

Given his focus on purity of form, it’s tempting to call Peter an artist’s artist, (other artists have been known to have bought pieces for their personal collections) and yet that suggests a degree of aloofness that is entirely absent in his work. Similarly, people often mistake a lack of explanation or storytelling in an artist’s work for coldness or apathy, but for Peter it was quite the opposite. “I think for him personally he didn’t see painting as a repository for angst or negative emotion,” Gill explains. “I think for him it was all about the joy in composition and colour, and in his interpretation of nature and the world around him.”

What, then, are we supposed to think or feel or imagine when we look at his work? Uplifted is the short answer. “When I look at Peter’s paintings, I just see Peter,” is Gill’s take. “His whole personality is in them, his great sense of humour and his take on the world. He never liked to take things too seriously. But I do know he was serious about paint.”

Peter Denmark / Untitled exhibition is now closed.

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