Submitted Review

Peter Cooley ‘To Samarkand Via Leura’

  • Martin Browne Contemporary • New South Wales

  • 29 April—23 May 2020

  • John McBride • Published 18 May 2020

Peter Cooley extends the terminus of the Silk Road from Xian, China to his hometown of Leura in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.  He will forgive me if I extend it one step past Samarkand to Bukhara and the most sublime Islamic building, the Samanid mausoleum.

Cooley’s regular walks through this backyard of Leura/Blue Mountains are observant of colour and a sharing of local landscape, started in 1993 with drawings of Mount Warning, transformed into large-scale paintings and ceramics using blocks of colour and painted lines in the mid-1990s. We start to see his love of the Silk Road, Islamic textiles and African patterns at this time, even though the title of an exhibition at Ray Hughes Gallery was a much shorter road “From Leura to Blackheath”.

He generously opens up his world of observation and joy in his surroundings to us through his most recent large-scale ceramics exhibition.

We are welcomed into the current ceramics show with an over-scaled tea set reminding of the pleasures of scones, tea towels & Australiana.  Indeed the blocks of colour on the tea pot & cups derive from his 1997 paintings of the Blue Mountains.  Our attention is then immediately drawn to the magnificent twin bactrian camels at the end of the exhibition.  These haughty proud objects seem to laugh at us with their black dot “I’m already sold” postures.

In between are his 3D treatments of Australian birdlife, approaching the radiance of live birds themselves.  On leaving the exhibition the gallery has placed at the entrance one of Cooley’s huts.  Evident in the texture & patterns on the roof of this simple structure are his love of the Silk Road & Islamic textiles – I am taken back to the Samanid mausoleum, a structure along this road, where I have spent many enjoyable hours sketching.  The mausoleum is perfection and Cooley’s ceramics similarly approach this feeling of satisfaction.