The Wonder of PETER MARKEY

a selling retrospective exhibition of
Drawings, Paintings & Prints
by an artist of [quite literally] extraordinary vision

Sat 9th March – Sun 24th March 2013

Open at WEEKENDS 10am – 6pm
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In the brief absence of our sterling webmaster, a Web-‘unversed’ member of The First  prepared this page of the site:  apologies to those of you who tried visiting before it was posted, and got an error-message.

Photo, at The First’s preview, by Ann MacGillivray [used with permission]                                                                                                                                                                                    FAMILY GOING OVER HILL  early 1970s  109 × 122cm / 43 × 48"  NFS

Though most widely-known for his deceptively simple automata, Peter Markey trained formally as a painter in his native Swansea.  However, there is far more to his output than those two strands.  A compulsive draughtsman, natural colourist and master of striking design, his strong formal sense makes you see the subjects of his imagery in real-life as if through his eyes (e.g.  in Mid-Wales, where he has been living for 25 years, the hills look just like ‘Markey hills’!)  This is a quality common to many other great artists.

Not for him the “This is boring” / “There’s nothing interesting around here” expressions of many an – even adult – artist:  Peter Markey seizes with gusto art-education’s axiom of looking to your own surroundings for inspiration, with eye-popping imagery derived from the unlikeliest everyday subjects and views, like empty stairwells, jars of water, puddles, lines of washing, pieces of screwed-up paper, carrier bags snagged in hedgerows, or the polystyrene transit-protection blocks for white goods and electronics.  That list is too narrow, though:  his range encompasses landscapes both urban and rural, architecture and streets, flowers (his wife is a natural gardener), trees, animals and birds, cars, still lifes, the occasional portrait, and near-abstract patterns.  Media include pencil, ink, alkyd, gouache, print, crayon, emulsion paint, even stitched fabric.

Such a graphic style usually appears detached and machine-like but, exceptionally, Peter Markey’s work isn’t ‘cold’.  We were unaware quite HOW much preparation goes into one of his paintings;  or, intriguingly, the fact that, even while he’s at work, such an inveterate planner still finds himself changing his mind on occasion (one painting, under very raking light, reveals an element painted out.  We don’t know if it was something intended at the drawing stage, or if it was added ‘on the fly’ but rejected when it didn’t work).  In Peter Markey’s positive and varied output, all of life is here to be relished, embodying the sense of wonder he feels for the world around him (hence, partly, the title of this show).

He has just moved house, and “The First” Gallery was entrusted with storage and sale of most of his remaining 2-D work, some we’d never seen.  These include prints and drawings, densely-worked illustrations for various Welsh-language books, and detailed submissions for several (probably unrealized) projects, including public sculptures.  His ferocious work-ethic and ceaseless flow of ideas weren’t news to us or his family, yet even they were astonished at the quantity when seen altogether (we couldn’t hope to exhibit the half of it).  The originality and sheer grandeur of vision from this major, hardly-recognized talent is surely something to celebrate, which The Wonder of Peter Markey does in spades.

Predominantly of paintings ranging from at least the 1960s to about five years ago, the show includes some early cut-away box-scenes made of mountboard, and a few – but, collectors especially be warned, very few – automata, Peter Markey’s main claim to fame.  Almost everything is for sale, and any paintings illustrated on here, but not on show in the gallery, can be purchased at a distance.


This selection of images includes some his own family wish to keep.  However, any they don’t are for sale, even if not to view by visiting “The First” Gallery during ‘drop-in’ hours at weekends.  With forewarning, we can make any piece of work available for you to see, without your formal purchase-commitment.
Note that, of the illustrations used on our hard-copy and e-flyers, only Black Silage-Bags with Two Black Cows [which was our erroneous title:  = Black Shapes, below] is still available.

We will be updating and improving this page during, and beyond, the show.  For technical simplicity, these pictures are all reproduced at the same height, irrespective of actual size, which I recognize doesn’t help in assessing the scale of each.  That may be something we’ll sort in future.

[F] = framed.  Some works may be hung unframed.  Paintings here are all on MDF or traditional hardboard, and in emulsion paint or alkyd (a cross between oil-paint and acrylic).  Exact details can be supplied on request.  Black Shapes bears a label reading “oils” but we think it may be alkyd, which was marketed early on as a substitute oil-paint, which may have confused some users.


SHEEP SHEEP  1990s  c.57.5cm / 22½" sq.
The piece bears no title-label, so it’s unclear if this is PM’s chosen title (which was on the
paper wrap covering it), or if his condition caused him to write what he thought its title was, twice (this is the last Sheep picture he has, and his titling is always utilitarian).  He is so
un-art-worldly that it wouldn’t occur, nor possibly matter, to him if there were two
of his works out there, both titled Sheep!!
(He re-titled some recent works – ones on our site, even – for later exhibitions).


ABSTRACT GREEN TREES  early 1990s  c.51 × 61cm / 20 × 24"
Related to PM’s series of Tree and Tree in Blossom works,
from the first Spring he spent in Mid-Wales.


FLUSHING BEACH [F]  c.2003  23 × 19cm / 9 × 7½"
Flushing is the settlement across the rivermouth from Falmouth and Penryn.


BLACK BIRDS IN TREE   2005  21.5cm / 8½" sq.
A version of this was exhibited in Into the Jungle:  Homage to
Douanier Rousseau
at John Martin:Chelsea in late 2005.


PUDDLED LANE [F]  2007  c.40.5 × 30.5cm / 16 × 12"
A more dramatic example from a series of puddle reflections.  An even more striking version in pencil is available:  larger, and so densely worked that the graphite gleams, an effect not reproduceable.


ROUND HILLS WITH FOUR TREES  c.1970s  61cm / 24" sq.
One of two works on show using this ‘pargetting’ method of applying paint.  The image of multiple ‘lollipop’ trees recurs throughout PM’s oeuvre.


LONDON ESTATE [F]  prob. 2007  30.5 × 35.5cm / 12 × 14"
There are at least three works from this viewpoint, believed to be from PM’s son Danny’s flat in Elephant & Castle, London.  (Danny, a highly successful painter himself, has a show at The Redfern, Cork St., London until 27th April).  I’m curious to know if the chimney in the background is the same one in Puddled Lane, just above.  Again, there was a series of images from the two London high-rise estates Danny M lived on.


ONE CAR [F]  1991  51cm × 61cm / 20 × 24"
One of an extended series, possibly derived from just a single showroom (typical Peter Markey:  squeezing the last drop of juice out of a creative idea!), of cars rather unsettlingly “trapped” behind windows, in compounds, etc.


CONSERVATORY AND TREES  1988  61cm / 24" sq.


CONSERVATORY AND TOWER-BLOCK  1988  61cm / 24" sq.
The Conservatory series derives from a visit to Glasgow Botanical Gardens.  There are several other smaller ones in the show.


PEBBLES  1960s  c.80 × c.110cm / 31½ × c.43½"
There’s a series of somewhat Bridget Rileyesque landscapes from this period, in obsessive black-&-white patterns.  Of the two using dots that we have, this one is the easier on the eye / brain.  Note the actual size of it, and imagine…  or come and see for real, of course!  Someone who knew this piece when it was hanging in the Markeys’home has suggested that it represents a beach, presumably information originally direct from PM himself.
[If this repro moirés, zoom in until it doesn’t].


NIGHT SNOWFLAKES [F]  2000s  61cm / 24" sq.
Intriguingly long time-span between these two paintings, using similar imagery to achieve quite different results.


CRUSHED PAPER LANDSCAPE [F]  2006  15 × 23cm / 6 × 9"
One of yet another series, of truly detritus-ordinary items given sculptural life by PM’s wondrous eye:  they include polystyrene packaging blocks (of the sort that protect hi-fi’s, white goods, etc.), paper, as here, and discarded plastic bags caught in hedges.  Almost certainly developed with no reference to, nor possibly much conscious awareness of, Martin Creed’s output!


RED CAR [F]  1991  51 × 61cm / 20 × 24"
The painting was bagged by the family, but two full-size pencil drawings (one showing two cars) are available.  Part of the series including One Car.


BLACK SHAPES  1991  91cm × 121cm / c.36 × c.48"
A combination of three of PM’s repeated favourite images:  stacked silage-bags, cows and rounded hills, typical of Mid-Wales.  There are four other farm-animals paintings at this scale, possibly works not done for, but not selected by, a farmer who commissioned portraits of some of his animals, after seeing
The Animated Eye at its showing in Stafford Museum.

DEAD SHEEP [F]  1990  51cm × 61cm / 20 × 24"
The extreme of a large series of Sheep, started in response to our asking for “a few” sheep pictures, to echo the image on a poster he’d designed for our touring exhibition The Animated Eye.  They duly arrived (loads of ’em!) with artfully po-faced titles like Sheep, Two Sheep, Another Two Sheep, More Sheep, etc., clearly taking the rise out of exhibitors who use abstruse titles to make viewers work harder than they need to.  Once the series was split up to different buyers, their new owners had the bizarre situation of showing a single picture titled, say, Even More Sheep…  one up to Peter!!  (Actually. there is one formally called Another Dead Sheep which, now separated, has a rather chilling effect that he may have missed).
The magnetically repellent ‘dead’ ones, a subject hardly rare on walks round the Mid-Welsh farmland where PM lived, didn’t sell on tour, unsurprisingly, but they’re intriguing portraits of the sculpturality of death, with subtle undertones of life going on around it (see how ‘busy’, and full of movement, that grass is).  The grass is created with the same technique as the Family Going Over Hill at the head of this page, another example of decades elapsing before he returns to particular imagery, or to an earlier method.

Click for more images from previous Peter Markey exhibitions at “The First” Gallery

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