HS: I’m not comparing your paintings to his, but I think Jules Olitski was a similar painter to you in that he was always pushing the parameters.
JP: I don’t think the emphasis is on consistency, or having a product or a signature style. I find all that too restricting. People who are familiar with my work can often identify something of me in the differences, but it’s very hard for, say, the average collector, or someone at an art auction or even most curators, to be able to follow all the differences in my work.
HS: When I saw your retrospective at the Campbelltown Art Centre, which represented forty years of painting, I thought it hung very well together, there was nothing that jarred.
JP: Yes, there were some big changes, but it was all within the preoccupation of the pictorial I suppose. With the licence or leeway I’ve given myself I should be thankful there’s even a market for my work. Also... being with a gallery where there is no pressure to produce a saleable product has helped a lot.
HS: Well yes, you have been with the Watters Gallery now for a long time. I think you were among the first artists to show here weren’t you?
JP: Yes they had work of mine in stock from close to the very beginning. Because I was so young I wasn’t ready to exhibit for a couple of years after they opened but Frank kept the odd painting they were willing to have in the stockroom. I have been with Watters since 1964.
HS: Then you went to England; you took over Paul Selwood’s studio didn’t you?
JP: Yes it was in Wiltshire. He was renting an old farmhouse with stables out the back, it was idyllic. It was called Watersmeet. There were two streams, which met behind the house, with swans coming and going. It was a great environment to live and work for about five years.
HS: Are there many paintings that exist from that period?
JP: Yeah, some were large scale. I used to send them back to Australia.
HS: When you look back over the periods do you think there were periods that were more successful than others?
JP: You are bound to have your ups and downs. There are a few paintings over the years, which I probably shouldn’t have shown. There have been a couple of times after major shocks to the system when I may not have been very focused, but I kept working through those periods, out of doggedness or determination. It probably served its purpose as therapy or whatever. Most of those works have been destroyed or painted over
HS: So is maturity a good thing?
JP: Well you want to see the present in a positive light. I think absorption in the work is the key really. Of course one can become distracted from that, get preoccupied with the end result because you want the best work for an exhibition or just to hang on the wall. I’m interested in the relationship between absorption in the act and concern about the finished product.
HS: Looking at this work Wedderburn Moment, it came out well.
JP: Most of the stages of working on these canvases involved wet into wet. With Wedderburn Moment I started off painting directly onto a dry canvas, then for the next stage I wet the canvas with a very diluted white, then painted into that. The final layer was painted onto wet as well.
HS: With the four panels that make up the painting, the continuity is interrupted at each division and yet one sees it as one continuous work.
JP: You probably notice that the lines tend to not stop and start except at the edges. I think that gives a uniqueness to the join. Working on the panels separately you are more inclined to take risks, try something out and see how it goes.
HS: You are not thinking compositionally the whole time.
JP: No, I am trying to avoid preconceptions of composition and see it simply as pictorial energy. Because I work horizontally I tend to move around each separate panel while painting, so there is no assumption about which is top or bottom. I’m not preoccupied with asking myself if it is a good composition. For a work like this it is about rhythm, density and layering, and that applies to Bhav as well.
HS: Well these two works Wedderburn Moment and Bhav relate very well to each other. Bhav is like a coloured version of Wedderburn Moment.
JP: I guess one of the things I was trying to do, using the network or grid, was to suggest a ground through which you can glimpse layers beyond. In earlier works I resorted to more dense layering which, although superimposed, would act illusionistically as a ground.
I wanted these recent paintings to be more direct.
HS: But you’ve kept the freshness, you’ve carried it through to these works.
JP: I guess what I was trying to achieve with those superimposed grounds was an illusion of transparency. So that was something I had in the back of my mind to suggest figure and ground without it becoming dense and opaque.
It does compare to the earlier paintings where I evoked figures and grounds, but with Bhav, the way the windows of colours are isolated by the grid is much more spontaneous. With the earlier works I tended to paint around shapes more deliberately, here every stage is evident; there is not much that is hidden.