‘The Circus of Life’ by Peter Cole at Gippsland Art Gallery

Peter Cole, Song For The Kimberley, 2009. Courtesy the artist and Gippsland Art Gallery, Victoria

Noted as a Gippsland Art Gallery permanent exhibition ‘The Circus of Life’ highlights the extraordinary work and unique artistic style of one Australia’s most prolific sculptors, Peter Cole. It presents a large collection of standalone sculptures surrounded by wall mounted pieces and is a celebration of the artists creative ambitions and the significant contribution he has made to art and in particular sculpture in Australia.

Cole who is based in the Gippsland region has had a career in the arts that now spans more than five decades since he graduated from the Prahran College of Advanced Education in Melbourne in 1968. During the early years Cole worked as a figurative realist painter and over time developed a regard for sculpture as a means to realise the stories he wishes to tell.

Throughout his life Cole has travelled the world far and wide exploring the art and culture of Indigenous and tribal peoples from northern Australia, Mexico, South America, Asia, Sri Lanka and beyond. And it is through these experiences that Cole came face to face with the realities of oppression around the world, the personal, political and social concerns embedded within the cultural spheres of the places he has been, and are the themes which compel the artist’s artistic motivations and creative output.

Peter Cole, The Red Tiger, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Gippsland Art Gallery, Victoria

Cole reflects on his own personal responses to the oppressive circumstances he has encountered, which he brings to life in his sculptural compositions designed and constructed out of wood, steel, paint and various oddments found on beaches, in junk shops and the like, and which feature birds, animals and the human form as symbols to interpret his ideas. His interest in wood as a medium, he says was bestowed to him by his father who he watched make wooden boats during his youth, “I’d seen him shaping timber, steaming timber. He would talk to me about the qualities of various types of wood. That’s how I became interested in using wood as a material,” the artist shares.

Cole’s sculptures are typically rendered in dark woods with red, yellow and black painted surfaces to embellish and characterise the defined shapes and lines of the totems, faces and other fascinating forms he creates. His perceptions though do not necessarily provide the viewer with transparent meaning but instead call out to the individual’s interpretation of the stories he presents. And as Gippsland Art Gallery Director Simon Gregg says Cole’s works are “puzzles to be solved”.

Peter Cole, The Reluctant Warrior, 2000. Courtesy the artist and Gippsland Art Gallery, Victoria

“Few of us remember artworks that are pretty, decorative or superficial; it is the art that claws into us, gripping the heart and soul, challenging and confronting us that remains long after. Which is why an encounter with the art of Peter Cole is not easily forgotten. We carry the psychological imprint of its clawing and gripping for months, years and lifetimes to come,” writes Gregg.

‘The Circus of Life’ by Peter Cole is a must-see exhibition. Click here to go online and explore the magnificent array of sculptures and to read the full exhibition essay, authored by Gregg.