If you like exuberant colour and an odd little dislocation from ordinary life, you’re going to love Peter McDonald’s new exhibition at the Daiwa Foundation. What’s the Japanese connection? He was born in Tokyo, though he studied at Central St Martins and the Royal Academy Schools in London. He spent last year as artist in residence at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, but he’s exhibited a lot in the UK too. He won the John Moores prize in 2008.
His pictures show ordinary people in everyday situations – well, fairly ordinary people, except they often have large blobby heads that overlap and merge, a device McDonald uses to break the boundaries between people and between them and their environments.
In this picture, Salon Hair, the environment has almost taken over. It’s only the tiny hair drier, appearing half cut-off on the right, that anchors it in reality.
He uses a flat, matt surface which enhances the feeling of oddness – his characters inhabit a landscape that is not like ours but is recognisably a place where the same day-to-day events happen. Like this picture, Flossing, where a character in their pyjamas flosses their teeth over the sink:
It’s kind of normal and yet oddly disorienting – it’s something about the way the determinedly simple towel rail and toilet roll float in space against the flat green background; or perhaps it’s that the floss is so distinct but the features of the person flossing aren’t.
Look at this one, titled Looking for a Carpet, where the two tiny customers are overwhelmed by the range and variety in a carpet store in Morocco – you can see the store owner unrolling a carpet for them to look at with a grand flourish. You know just how they feel, faced with all that bewildering choice, even though their faces are just little blobs.
This is one of the biggest paintings in the exhibition, so it’s much more impressive in reality.
Some of the works on paper show a Japanese influence, like these two, Conversation and Gesture, where the faces are like Noh masks:
Or Country Train, with Mount Fuji visible though the window:
Some seem to depict routine situations, like Winnebago:
Until you ask yourself why both people have a steering wheel.
McDonald is conscious of creating an alternative world. He says ‘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 pictures in the show, which has the overall title Winnebago, Carpets,Onsen, Potter, are a mixture of acrylic gouache on canvas or paper. It runs until 18th March at the Daiwa Foundation Japan House in Cornwall Terrace. it’s worth a visit, and if you want to see more of McDonald’s work, he’s represented by Kate MacGarry.