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Fontana, by Peter McDonald

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About the artwork

Peter McDonald was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1973. He studied in London at Central Saint Martins and at the Royal Academy Schools. The artist writes of his work as follows:

‘My paintings depict a colourful world inhabited by people engaged in everyday activities. Images of teachers, artists or hairdressers are constructed with an elementary graphic language. They have a cartoon-like simplicity and waver at the point were figuration might tip at any moment into abstraction. Human forms veer towards the geometric: circles stand in for heads, flat planes describe rooms and crude poses denote narrative. These simplifications appear to create a community of super-humans living in a world that has a harmonious transparency. By making use of archetypes, symbolism and our irresistible tendency to make the strange readable, this alternative world operates like a parallel universe, with a very familiar logic and practices. This utopia may be a vision of an ideal world in the future or a simplified and optimistic version of the one we already know.’

The subject matter of McDonald’s prize winning picture is ostensibly simple: an interior with figure. The ‘room’ is defined by three tonal areas representing floor, wall and ceiling. The circular ‘canvas’ - recognisable as such only by the row of dots, representing nail  heads, along its near edge – makes the interior a ‘studio’, and the figure an ‘artist.’ The subject of the picture thus becomes ‘Artist in Studio’, one tackled by painters as diverse as Rembrandt, Velasquez, Courbet and Picasso. The arm of the ‘artist’ holds in its cartoon fist, not a brush but a spike and the area of the picture representing the ‘canvas’ is perforated with holes - real holes - perforating the real canvas on which the fictive ‘canvas’ is painted. The figure’s head, its hydrocephalic size and shape recalling a painter’s palette, changes the colours of the areas of the picture which it overlaps, as though made of tinted cellophane. 

It is the title of the picture – Fontana - which provides its crucial dimension, referring as it does to a twentieth century Argentine painter and sculptor most celebrated for his so-called ‘slash paintings’- stretched canvases slit by one or more razor cuts - but whose earlier works included a series in which holes were pieced in the canvas, thereby ‘breaking the membrane of two-dimensionality in order to highlight the space behind the picture.’ The figure in McDonald’s picture is therefore not a generic ‘artist in studio’ but a particular one: Lucio Fontana (1899-1968). 

Significantly, where the ‘head’ overlaps the four smaller ‘pictures’ hanging on the wall, the perforations are painted, and where it does not, the perforations are real. It perhaps suggests a distinction between the conception in the artist’s mind and the realisation of the completed work of art.