Peter Kingston’s pier views

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Lavender Bay artist Peter Kingston was furious about 1990s plans to redevelop the wharves at Walsh Bay—and especially to replace the single-storey Pier 6/7 with a brand-new, over-water apartment block that obviously would become a gated enclave for rich investors.

He joined a vigorous protest campaign to stop the redevelopment so the wharves could gradually decay like romantic ruins in a Picturesque landscape – and continue to be a playground and shelter for the harbour’s birds and sea-creatures, including his favourite fairy penguins.

Peter Kingston in his Lavender Bay studio (Mal Damkar).

Stepping into his small launch, MV Anytime, Kingston often puttered across the water to visit Walsh Bay—or to paint its piers from his waterfront villa next to Wendy Whiteley and her secret garden. Some of those passionate paintings are highlighted in a new book about his creativity—Peter Kingston: Paintings and Drawings (The Beagle Press, 2019).

This second book on Kingston’s art confirms him as one of Sydney’s most gifted marine artists of the trans-millennial decades. It reveals his exceptional talent for drawing; interpreting colour, light and movement, and an uncanny gift for communicating atmospheric qualities … engine noises of ferries, waves pounding on an ocean beach, birdsongs in the glade where he sketches with his dog.

‘More Fools than Wise – Pier 6/7’ by Peter Kingston 1999 (Museum of Sydney/Sydney Living Museums).

Apart from some stints overseas, Kingston has lived beside Sydney Harbour since his childhood frolics at Parsley Bay, near Vaucluse, where he showed early talents as an illustrator. In the 1960s he produced cartoons and ink sketches for the Sydney University student magazine Tharunka and counter-culture rag, Oz: both edited by his Sydney Push buddy, Richard Neville.

‘Nearer my God to Thee – Pier 6/7 Walsh Bay’ by Peter Kingston 1989 (Museum of Sydney/Sydney Living Museums).

Double degrees in art and architecture gave Kingston the perception and drawing skills to depict a wide range of animated, fluid and structural subjects with an authentic yet slouchy style. His sketches are eccentrically drawn with charcoal or pen-and-wash, and he has mastered the tricky craft of cutting and hand-tinting lino prints (including a lifelike portrait of former Parsley Bay neighbour, Ita Buttrose). He also learned how to make short films, in the days long before it was easy to post-edit lighting and framing errors.

‘Fairy Penguin – Pier 6/7 Walsh Bay’ by Peter Kingston 1998.

Kingston’s most marvellous works of the last three decades are his oil paintings, on canvas or paper, of the famous harbour icons he sees every day from his verandah-shaded studio.

One measure of accomplishment in any oil painter is skill in representing different qualities of light. In Kingston’s harbourscapes, there is far more subtlety and diversity of weather conditions than is evident in the generally sunny paintings by his more celebrated neighbour and friend, Brett Whiteley. On the other hand, Kingston’s nocturnal paintings—of funky ferries crossing black water with electric-bright cabins and railings kissed by moonbeams—are even more sensational and memorable.

Launched in December at the National Trust’s SH Ervin Gallery on Observatory Hill, this book includes an essay by Barry Pearce, Emeritus Curator of Australian Art with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and a foreword by its scholarly publisher, Lou Klepac.

Pearce’s essay includes an insight about Kingston’s career from his dealer, Stuart Purves, principal of Australian Galleries:

He’s like a volcano that has been steaming away for years out the side door and now he’s decided to open the main gate [of painting]. What I really admire about his painting is that he’s not afraid of it.