Peter Maloney

Treacle sleep
Room 35, Sydney

The works of art which fascinate me most often are those whose very presence disrupts the emotional covenants we form daily with the everyday world, as a means to its comfortable navigation. These works are rarely demonstrative, but rather possess the sense of being reluctant inhabitants of the material world. Emissaries from elsewhere, they place pressure upon the means by which we construct, partake of, and understand our daily lives. As attempts to make sense of the world they are small acts of courage.

Peter Maloney speaks of his work as a conversation with mortality. His work, in part, responds to experiences of pain and grief resulting from the impact of HIV and AIDS. It is partly therapeutic and restorative. But this is not its only motivating factor. It possesses a complex social grounding, along with, but not contrary to, an often mysterious intangibility of reference and intent which results from its conjunctions of photographic representation, painterly abstraction, calligraphic marking and text.

Over the past decade Maloney has made many large abstract paintings featuring gestural markings suggestive of an almost private language. These paintings prioritise the visual over the semantic in their relationship to language. More fundamentally, they project the failure and inadequacies of language in the face of the artist's experiences of personal loss.

Maloney began to make photographic pieces during the mid -1990s, generally working with paired images which were marked with text. The juxtaposition of strange fragments, both visual and textual, whether personal to (or created by) the artist or found in the public domain, rehearses the suppressed poetry of his earlier paintings. But photography offers a clarity of association, with loss, memorial, memory and desire, which is only latent in the paintings. Significantly, this photographic introduction of representational features has appeared in Maloney's work in tandem with the clearly referential functions of text.

Treacle Sleep is Maloney's first exhibition to bring together his photographic and painting practices in a manner which crystallises their confluences and counterpoints. Here text has seeped from photography into painting. A set of three white canvases is marked with passages from Peter Pan. Four larger facing canvases (in blue, pink, lavender and yellow respectively) are covered in fragments of text from various sources (from pulp culture to the writers Denton Welch and Henri Michaux). They are legible and project both voice and narrative. But an act of reading also involves encounter with their disruption. Lines of text are broken into segments or muddied by the ground of their own shadows. Lines are cut by the edge of the canvas, or lost, as if dropped off a scrolling sheet of lax paper. Others are sliced through. Words are stretched, contracted or compressed to the very limits of their form, their stylistic base clearly the electronic manipulations of photocopier and lax machine. This latter source is particularly important, emphasising a sense of the texts as random snatches of voices lost in transmission, gathered from the ether and laid down over painted surfaces which are sensitive to their heat and pulse. Maloney seems to be testing his voice through that of others-both an homage and a sublimation.

Psychic-self and fictional -voice fuse most adroitly in the Peter Pan paintings. Peter Pan is a poignant model for communal groups seeking a sense of belonging through other worlds. There is further resonance for Maloney in this model, a sort of personal space of metaphor, through the association of both his own name as well as that of his deceased partner Michael ('Michael' is the name of one of the children guided by Peter Pan through their fictional journey of discovery). And so through the simple association of names which underpin these paintings, Maloney enacts a moment of transcendence of his trauma-an act of defiance, a refusal to bow before the dictates of rationalism. A similar spirit possesses many of his photographs which depict images of bodily beauty, masquerade and sexual play.

Maloney's photographic self-portrait at the entry to the exhibition returns me to his conversation with mortality. The portrait is constructed from photographed and re-photographed sections which are layered over each other as if in some traumatic re-membering. This work is paired by an image of a ceiling, the view one would get when laid out on a bed. Over these images is text in the form of a cross, or church window, echoing a popular song; 'I should have kept my appointments with the psychiatrists'. Alongside this work is another paired set of images: on the left a patch of carpet spotted over with ink, like some sad trace left by a now absent body; on the right an image of the artist and friend standing before a gestural painting which was made collaboratively as part of a seance-the very immediate markings of a conversation with mortality. The text over this work reads, 'to stand in the shadow of the wound-mark in the air'. This, I sense, is Maloney's place of work.