A tui sounds clear liquid notes and a wood pigeon flaps over the orchard as we walk down a neat path to Peter Bradburn’s studio. Wasps buzz drunkenly around overripe grapes and rain-blown figs. Beauty and decay; perfect for a painter.
Peter and his partner Chrisse’s place is just north of Kaiwaka, the legacy of permaculture guru and heritage seed-saver Kay Baxter. “Yeah, the gardens were pretty daunting at first,” says Peter. “But Chrisse’s a natural, and I just plug away.”
He is Tauranga-born but Auckland-bred. In the sixties the family lived in the grounds of Dilworth school, where his father taught. Peter showed early promise for a literary calling, winning a national writing prize at 11, and went to Auckland Boys Grammar out of zone from Papatoetoe. In his late teens, home was pre-gentrification Parnell – “it was the beginning of punk in NZ,” he says.
Peter left NZ at 17 to surf with an older brother in France. Coming home at 20, he job-hopped (including a stint in the world of fashion) till he hit advertising. “I started as a suit,” he says, “but I knew copywriting was what I wanted to do for a living.” He wrote poems too, successfully publishing two volumes of poetry, and song lyrics composed on guitar.
He’s largely self-taught as an artist, but took some life-drawing classes with renowned art teacher Matthew Browne. Peter was worried about his rather shaky hand and wavering lines, but when Matthew stood back and said, “I love that line!” he began to relax and see potential.
He fears being influenced by the work of others, but allusions to McCahon, Basquiat and Bacon are inevitable. Peter’s obscure, often deleted, sometimes religious texts, the jagged line and colour, the twisted, truncated bodies and flayed heads makes for challenging and often disturbing work, but it draws you in like a fish on a line.
“My two favourite quotes are ‘a poem is never finished, only abandoned’ – Paul Valery, and ‘kill your darlings’, from Bill Bernbach. I took 50 works to the tip last year. It felt great!” He’s galvanised by the memory of this epic paring-down and phrases bounce out of him. “I’m not trying to be provocative, I don’t have a narrative; your relationship with my work is your own.”
Peter is an avid traveller and until now has never lived in one place for longer than two years. He’s painted prolifically wherever he was, but now, somewhat settled in this small paradise, the work is pouring out of him. He’s doing very well too, with a couple of solid awards behind him and national and international sales.
His mid-April show in Whangarei will be a good one. Our advice? Invest now in Peter Bradburn.
Exhibition opens 17 April, 5-7pm
Megan Dickinson Gallery, Whangarei
Peter’s work also available at Matakana Gallery in the village and Scarlet Gallery, Mangawhai. Peter is a member of Mangawhai Artists.