Interview by Deborah Edwards, 2014

Interviewee: Artist Peter Kennedy (PK)
curator (AGNSW) Deborah Edwards (DE)
16 October 2014, Melbourne (PK edit 13.9.16)

DE: Can we start with the genesis years 1965-70. You said you were in Sydney by 1965 and you had studied under John Molvig in Brisbane, so I assume you were painting in some kind of an expressionist mode, or were starting to be led in that direction by Molvig?

PK: I possibly could have been led in that direction by Molvig who of course was the big name in Brisbane in those days, but I think I was not sufficiently artistically developed or sufficiently mature artistically to feel confident in working in an expressionist mode.  I think I was probably still operating under the influence of people like Sydney Nolan and Arthur Boyd and Drysdale. They were the big names: John Olsen was radical!

DE: And so the work that you showed in the Farmers Blaxland Gallery, ‘Young Contemporaries’ exhibition in ‘65 would have been along those lines?

PK: It was a landscape of a type, although it wasn’t completely figurative, but it was clearly a landscape, and I think it was imbued with Nolanesque, Boydesque, some Molvigian Freudian passages, but it was clearly a landscape and not as radical as say Firth-Smith or Stephen Earle, who I think was one of the artists who won on one occasion during those two years when I exhibited in ‘The Young Contemporaries’ exhibition in the mid sixties. There was another artist who would be known to you because he did works with light, and that was Mike Kitching. He won it one year and I think Steven Earle won it the other year. So when I saw those works they seemed pretty radical to me.

DE: Who did you have as your teacher – to interrupt for a minute – at East Sydney Tech?

PK: I can’t remember the names…

DE: You wouldn’t have had John Passmore?

PK: No.  I do know that I wanted to get into Lyndon Dadswell’s class, and somehow or other I managed to do that. At an unofficial, informal level, John Coburn allowed me to go to his life classes, or Tom Gleghorn had. So I operated informally, or unofficially, even though I was formally enrolled, the passage through the normal first year curriculum struck me as being very uninteresting. I shot myself in the foot as I never got a diploma. I spent a lot of time in the library and this is where I discovered the stuff that I have been doing ever since.

DE : So there is a truth in the view that your first awakening, if you like, into what was then clearly an avant garde practice, came through the international magazines that you saw at East Sydney Technical College?

PK: True, yes.

DE: And did they have Flash Art?

PK: They had Flash Art and it was in tabloid form, like a newspaper.

DE: And Studio International?

PK: Studio international, Art international and maybe Artforum  but I am not absolutely sure.

DE: I think Klippel around the same time, late 50s and early 1960s, was reading Artforum in the State Library. But that is at least six or seven years before you. It interests me that such establishment institutions had such subscriptions.  So you were already receptive to change.

PK: I was highly alert and extremely receptive to change. And I think part of that receptivity was due somewhat to my failed academic career in primary school and secondary school. I failed comprehensively at everything.

DE: How do you fail primary school?

PK: In my day in the 1950s, and I guess some decades before that – it got phased out in the 1960s – but unfortunately for me it was still up and running when I sat for my so-called “Scholarship” examination which was at the end of primary school, and if you failed English and Mathematics, not Social Studies, I think – if you failed Mathematics or English you automatically failed and that was the end of your academic career! And of course I failed. But that didn’t stop me from going to Brisbane Grammar School, but I failed comprehensively there as well. Except in English and History, those subjects. And I should point out there was no art course. The curriculum was convergent, in a conventional sense.  It was all Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, English, Geography. I did alright in the non-mathematical, non-science subjects, but that wasn’t enough to really give you a pass when you sat for what was called the Junior Examination.

So I had a certain problem with convention at that point. I felt like the odds were stacked against me and the answer to this for me was to work against anything that smacked of authority or academic practice or convention.  And so I was only too willing, when I got into my own area of interest and milieu, to kick over the traces, to rebel, or to look for more radical, challenging ways of doing things. That seemed a part of my personality at that stage in my life, which was an early stage because I was probably around 19 or 20 when I was thinking through this.

DE: It makes sense that you choose an art school that was meant to be less conventional ..

PK: Well, it was the only art school

DE:.  So you did one year basically and then left.

PK: Yes, half a year actually.

DE: So that means that by the end of 1965/ getting into ‘66, you’d left the art school – so 1966 looks like a pivotal year in relation to you beginning to see where you might want to go?  I’m assuming you were still painting at that stage?

PK: Yes

DE: Were you doing part-time work when you were 20 or 21?  What were you doing before you went to Claude Neon?

PK: I had a job working in a silk screen studio or factory, silk screen printing huge signs, plastic signs, that were illuminated and went up over service stations – like BP and Shell and so on.  But I was still painting, more or less, although I didn’t have a studio and at some point in 1965 I returned to Brisbane to rethink my position, as it were. I am not sure that I knew what I was doing at the time, but in retrospect I think that was what I was doing – thinking!  And that led me to the view that if I was going to pursue an art career, which I desperately wanted to do, the thing was to look at other ways of making art.  I had already been through the library at East Sydney Tech, so this is ‘65 when I am digesting all of this and reformulating it. I spent some time in Brisbane in ‘66 after the silkscreen printing in Rosebery in Sydney, and then very early in 1967 I got the job at Claude Neon, having returned to Sydney.  That would have been in February or March of  ‘67.  And that gave me a steady income.

DE: And were you finding your way to various people by then?  Were you part of any group of students who visited various Sydney shows in those years?  Can you remember, for example, if you saw Ostoja-Kotkowski ‘s exhibition of electronic images and other luminal-kinetic works at Gallery A, Sydney, in September ’66?

PK:  I did not see that, no.

DE: Were you aware of his work at all?  Did he cross your path?

PK: Well I became aware of it very early but when, precisely, I am not sure. Would it have been in ‘65 when I was going through stuff in the library at East Sydney Tech? That would seem unlikely, it wouldn’t have been in any magazines – although Art and Australia might have published something.

DE: You were looking at Art and Australia?

PK: Yes.

DE: They might have because he was already aligned to the Adelaide Festival of Arts by that stage. I don’t know how Gallery A organised that show of 1966 with him. Who then were your artist-colleagues at the time,  your cohorts?

PK: I didn’t have any colleagues.

DE: So, quite a loner.

PK: Yes, I was very much a loner when I began working at Claude Neon. Well, between 1965 and ‘67 I was a loner. Through a mutual friend from Brisbane I met Mike Parr.  And that would have been some time during 1967, ‘68. And Mike at that point might have been doing a course at East Sydney Tech, but he was then primarily a poet, and although Mike might resist this for his own reasons, my memory is that I encouraged him to pursue his interest in visual art. So it just happened that we started talking very regularly (and probably drinking a bit as well) sometime during 1967, ‘68.

DE: Which is earlier than I thought.

PK: I think we would have found ourselves on a similar wave-length.  But my recollection is   that Mike persisted predominantly with the poetry through ‘68, ‘69 because it wasn’t until 1970 that he got the idea of establishing the Gallery, Inhibodress, of which I was somewhat sceptical – something  I am on the record as saying.  But in the end I thought that Gallery A was a little, maybe precious, and if one was going to do more expanded forms of work then Gallery A was not the place because it had its clientele and was, of necessity, commercially orientated.

DE: Which was a strong judgement, given that in establishment circles it was being viewed as rather advanced, rather progressive.

PK: Yes, it was, I suppose, in retrospect.

DE: So just in terms of those years ‘67-‘68 and into those next couple of years, you were basically at Claude Neon three years full-time?

PK: No, six.  I left there at the end of ‘72. Then went overseas.

DE: I didn’t realise that you were at Claude Neon until you left for the trip.

PK: Yes. Well it paid for a lot of the work that I made during that period.

DE: The Bulletin critic in February 1970 described the job you took at Claude Neon as mechanical, but then another source claims you were ‘a sign designer’.   I am interested to know what your job was – and did you apply for a job there?

PK: I think it might have been advertised. I don’t think I would have got the job otherwise.

DE: And in Sydney they were largely doing all the commercial signs?

PK: They were doing huge signs, the major signs all around Australia.  They had branches in all the other capital cities but if you were doing, say, a Coca-Cola sign, those signs were designed in Sydney then sent to Perth or sent to Brisbane or wherever.

DE: Were you designing them up?

PK: I was doing the artwork.  There were two types of signs that Claude Neon produced; there was the neon sign, and there were two types of neon signs broadly speaking; and there were plastic signs. Plastic signs were the signs that were screen-printed, double-sided, fluorescent tubes down the middle and illuminated.  So, for example, they would have been like the fish and chip signs that hung under shop awnings, above footpaths.
The two types of neon signs were ones where the neon tubing was exposed to the elements and miraculously, generally speaking, seemed to survive the weather.  Often they were very big, mounted on steel frames and bolted onto roofs. And then there were those, like the Coca-Cola signs, much bigger, more elaborate signs, mounted on large structures and in Sydney are possibly still there, in some form or other. The really big Coca-Cola sign in Sydney at the time was mounted at the top of William Street, Kings Cross.

DE: Claude Neon did that?

PK: Yes, and I think during the time when I was there it was mounted on the roof of the Pink Pussycat Nightclub, right at the top of William Street. They were huge, these signs that utilised channel lettering involving sheet metal fabrication.   For example, within the channel were perhaps six neon tubes – the illumination is contained, no spillage of light.  So there is a concentrated intensity from the neon. The inside of the channel might be painted red. This introduced a red, not as intense as the neon red, but a red that glows, and defines the channel in the form of the letter. And it is from that method of display that I have applied the channel technique which I’ve stuck with and which you’ve seen most recently in the National Gallery of Victoria work (Light rain – and everything we know about the universe (except gravity) 2013).  In commercial signage theses signs were on timers, and would cycle through a sequence of colours that would appear to run across letters, or would flash on or off, or do both.

DE: And were you intimately involved with what an engineer or a mechanical person was doing, in terms of actually designing? Or was it quite separate?

PK: There was a senior artist – it seems quite strange to say now, he was forty years old and that seemed old to me at the time -and five other people working in the art department, doing designs. We had air brushes connected to our desks.  Compressed air would come up through the floor, through a hose. Our air brushes were mounted on the edge of the drawing desks, and if we were doing neon work we would air-brush the neon effects and then draw in with fluorescent paint, using a pen or fine brush, the neon tubes. It kind of glowed, this suggestion of neon and its halo light effect.  At that point, 1967, I would have been 22.  The senior artist, Colin, being 40, would have done some of the more intricate work on the big Coca-Cola type signs or others that we might have been doing, but at a certain point certain aspects of that would have been handed over to me and perhaps I would have carried on the work.  Now, who worked out the light sequencing, the timing, of all of this stuff, I don’t know.  We simply did artwork on black illustration board and handed it over. That’s what the client would see, these air-brushed night-time renderings on black board, and maybe there were instances of the light sequences being demonstrated in a storyboard format: I’m not sure, I don’t recall.

DE: Because the factory making the neon was next to the office you worked in?

PK: Out the back – it was massive

DE: Where was it?

PK: In Mascot, Gardeners Road, Mascot. The building is probably still there – yet again, maybe it has been knocked down, but it was a substantial building.  All the administrative offices and the art department were at the front of the building on Gardeners Road and the factory extended all the way down the back.

DE:  Stephen Jones, when he interviewed you, said that the first sign of your new direction came through colour: that your strong interest in colour in your paintings was the catalyst for you to jump into the extraordinary colour which neon represented.  In other words, he implied that it was a primary interest in colour that propelled you into artificial light. What is your view about that?

PK: I don’t remember seeing that mentioned in the Light Years catalogue, but it may well be in one of his interview transcripts. He did a fine essay for that catalogue and got a lot of information out that wasn’t already on the public record. I wouldn’t necessarily subscribe to that theory or notion really.  I think what drove me was less to do with colour, more clearly it was something to do with light, of an artificial type, but more particularly still, its relationship to space, how it figured in the space.  And from what I can recollect, my primary impulse was to move from two-dimensional expression into a three-dimensional mode of working, allowing light to be configured in a spatial sense.

And I was working with that sense of space at the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Brisbane in 2011.  I was basically taking the images that I still have from the Gallery A exhibitions and reconfiguring them to suit the IMA spaces, which were obviously much larger, but basically the way I did it was to set it up in the same way that I did for the two or three shows at Gallery A: the first, Neon Light Installations, in 1970, and then Luminal Sequences in ‘71, but now combined at the IMA.  You could see things through doorways and openings and the light elements were up here or down there or behind you, or what have you. So to my mind it was less about colour, although I had to think about colour, in terms of what tubes I specified, or what colour I made the channels – if they were works that involved channels – but uppermost in my mind was ‘how do I work with this spatially, in a three dimensional space?’

DE: And that’s not just sculptural, its already about moving into ideas about an installation practice ….

PK:  Yes, sure. And at the beginning of 1970 this is a radical move, this is the challenge that I am throwing down. I believe this is art, but will the public, or the critics, think of it as art, or as something else?

DE: How would you describe the scene generally by the late 60s?  You are working at Claude Neon, you are doing that kind of work, you are talking to Parr quite often, and  I presume meeting other people with him.

PK: Not a lot … I’ve never been naturally gregarious

DE: That’s surprises me.

PK: I can be gregarious, but I don’t seek it. It’s not my natural inclination, I suppose.  I’m quite happy with my own company, which has stood me in good stead over the years!

DE: Sounds reasonable to me.  And you were becoming politicised at the same time weren’t you? Were those things moving hand-in-hand for you?

PK: It hadn’t crystallised at that point, in the sense that you might conceive of there being a discernible concentration of political ideas.  It was casting around in an amorphous way. I mean, I did join one or several anti-Vietnam demonstrations in George Street in Sydney, but I had to take time off work to do so. And the art director, who had his office outside the art department proper, was a bit older again.  He would have been in his mid-fifties, I suppose. I think he had a political background, going back to the thirties.  He would have known people like Rod Shaw, a cartoonist originally, for one of the newspapers. He had washed up in the neon business as well.  I had to ask if I could go to a Vietnam demonstration, if I could have time off. Fortunately he was sympathetic.  But I wasn’t engaged in a highly politicised sense in the way that students at university were.

DE: What about Clement Greenberg?  Did you go to Greenberg’s lecture at Sydney University in 1968? (‘Avant Garde Attitudes. New art in the Sixties’; the first Power Institute Lecture at the University of Sydney).

PK: Yes.

DE: Did you already know Max Hutchison who, in a sense, hosted it?

PK: I think I did. I think I tuned into Max around 1967.

DE: Max seems have played an important role.  You referred to Hutchison coming to see works of yours in Melbourne I thought?

PK: No, it was at a studio I had in Waverley, Sydney.

DE: So he was up from Melbourne?

PK: Yes, and Gallery A was running in a terrace house in Gipps Street, Paddington.

DE: This is probably around ‘66

PK: Yes, well, I had this studio in ’67; I was able to afford a studio, the one I had in Waverley, because I was working at Claude Neon.

DE: Hutchison would have known you from the ‘Young Contemporaries’; he was astute, so he would have been looking at the ones coming up.

PK: He came and had a look at some paintings and offered me a show, but I felt it just wasn’t the time to make the move.  I don’t think I was satisfied with the paintings.  I’d seen some good painting shows there and the one that stood out and always remained in my mind – and its kind of curious because he sort of disappeared off the radar – was the artist Leonard Hessing, who, I think, became an architect, although I’m not sure.

DE: The Art Gallery of New South Wales certainly holds paintings by Hessing. They are large, landscape based, and very lyrical.

PK: And there was an American artist, I think a bit like Brett Whiteley, big, boldly coloured works. What was his name?

DE: Well, James Doolin was American and in Australia briefly, with very bold hard-edge abstractions …  So you went to Greenberg’s lecture?

PK: I went to Greenberg’s lecture. I think that was in the Qantas theatrette in the basement of the AMP building or what was then the AMP Building at Circular Quay.

DE: I had thought it held somewhere at Sydney University.

PK: Maybe it was there … I had thought it was at Circular Quay.

DE: Certainly the whole Sydney scene was there weren’t they? I remember Janet Dawson talking to me about it – I believe she found it unconvincing.

PK: Yes. Well, I think the people who were on the rise then, and attracting a lot of attention, were the Central Street crowd, and I think they got a big shock because I don’t think Greenberg was at all interested in what they were doing. He did say at some point in his lecture, or in the context of an interview, that the artist who most impressed him was Sidney Nolan, because of Nolan’s evocation of space.  And this of course was not what they wanted to hear.  And I remember thinking that must have been a shock.  Because he was god.  And what he said came from on high.  I remember that very clearly.

DE: Various artists I have spoken with have said that Greenberg was very reluctant, both at the lecture itself and at the party afterwards (that Hutchison threw at Mary Place, at the office of his printing press), to engage in any sort of discussion or answer any questions. He simply wished to deliver the lecture and then return to the USA. So I have had the sense of it being a largely unsatisfactory event.

PK: A classic example of American cultural imperialism!

DE: Yes, I suspect so.  Now, by that stage the Tin Sheds was soon to be established. Donald Brook had come from Canberra to become an academic at the Power Institute of Fine Arts at the University. My understanding is that he and Marr Grounds from the Faculty of Architecture were prime movers in setting up the Tin Sheds in 1969 – and Bert Flugelman was soon there.

PK: Brook arrived shortly after Bernard Smith

DE: Yes, so did you find your way to those men? I mean, you were in the scene enough to go to the Greenberg lecture, and go to the party afterwards?

PK: No, I was too outside the scene to receive such an invitation.  I wasn’t that far down the track at that point!  I don’t think I could see myself, even in a remote way, as being an insider until 1970, when I had the neon light installation show at Gallery A.

DE: That show elicited very wide positive press coverage.

PK: Yes, so that’s when I started to make real connections.  At that point I would have tuned into Bert Flugelman and Marr Grounds and Terry Smith.

DE: As they would in turn, have discovered you.  How did your 1970 Gallery A show come about? Did you approach Gallery A ?   I am assuming you had a project, an idea, and I think probably by ‘68 –‘69 you had already started to think about moving into neon.

PK: Yes.  I think I would have approached Max, or Julia Crespi, but it would have been through Max; they wouldn’t have done anything without Max giving the OK.

DE: Especially if you already knew him and he had offered you a show, you could now have taken up his offer.  But you provided him with a very different kind of show to the one he expected?

PK: Yes, that’s right.  I would imagine that some time in late ‘67 or some time in ‘68, I would have approached Max and said that I was working at Claude Neon and I’ve access to all this stuff and expertise.  Would he be amenable to my doing a neon show? And he must have said yes.  I would have worked on the drawings and then been given a date for sometime in February, 1970.  That would have firmed up some time in ‘69.

DE: So, just to make this clear, did your desire to work in neon come after going to work at Claude Neon, or did you go to work at Claude Neon, having decided to move into that medium.  You would have understood that there was little luminal art begin produced in Australia, would you not?  Although you might have seen Frank Hinder’s luminal-kinetic show at Gallery A perhaps?

PK: That’s possible.

DE: It was in 1968.

PK: I could have seen it.

DE: They were largely light-boxes mounted on pedestals or the wall – held together by rubber bands in some instances, but very significant indeed.

PK: Yes. I was tuned into Gallery A at that point, and that seemed to be ‘the Gallery’ rather than Rudy Komon or Barry Stern, or maybe even Watters.

DE:  I’ve been fascinated to see recently that Robert Owen showed very early on at the Barry Stern Gallery.

PK: Did he?

DE: There was a range of very interesting artists showing at Barry Stern’s, that one would not necessarily associate with that space …  The impression you have given thus far is that your interest in working in neon came after you started working at Claude Neon … were you looking through various international magazines and being drawn to luminal art?

PK: It was concurrent … I was an opportunist. I knew I had to earn a living.  I already had experience working in commercial art doing lettering, hand lettering, essential to designing signs, but I was also interested in breaking out of painting/ sculpture modes, and attracted to working with light. By getting a job at Claude Neon I could start to fulfil that ambition.

DE: Well, its very efficient because I would think there would have been various barriers to this at the time.  Neon was not a new technology … but there would have been certain practical or technical aspects of dealing with neon that you simply had know about unless you wanted to start creating collaborative works.

PK: I don’t think, at that time, that you could be an artist who might walk in off the street and say ‘I want to do a neon installation’. I don’t think that would be understood or taken seriously.

DE: You wouldn’t have been able to convince Gallery A, I should think, unless you were able to demonstrate that knowledge.

PK: It made it a real proposition from Gallery A’s perspective, I’m sure.

DE: Yes, and one they took on, which is interesting … it was probably something quite new for them.  The Hinder works arrived as boxes which one plugged in, but you were basically creating installations … that faith was vindicated by reviews.  I think there is only one …

PK: Jack Lynn

DE: Yet, but he didn’t really attack the show. He simply declared his view, from the perspective of a tachist painter/collagist, that there had, to his mind, been very little artificial light work that produced anything of substance.  What is interesting was that he implied – and so did a number of other critics – that if artificial light was used the artwork fell into the category of the decorative.   Neon had a history as an advertising tool, and it was seen in some ways as a kind of content-less proposal.  I don’t know whether that affected you at the time? How did you feel yourself about the first (1970) show?

PK: I think at the time I regarded it as successful. And that has been my view ever since. It did open up things in a way that other artists, up until that point, perhaps hadn’t contemplated or made public. Tim Johnson came along that year and did his own thing, so both exhibitions were mutually supportive, I think, at that point.

DE: When did he move into light?

PK: Not long after me, he showed some work in late 1970, or in the middle of 1970 that were perspex constructions with light bulbs.

DE: Yes, light bulbs and perspex hangings.

PK: That’s right, but that might have been ‘71 … I’m not clear on that – but I do think it was 1970.

DE: When did you first meet him?

PK: I met him when I was installing Neon Light Installations in February. I heard the sound of a motorbike pull up and Tim walked in. He had already heard that I was doing this show and he was first cab off the rank!

DE: Ah, he was very interested to see what you were doing with light …

PK  And he acquired a couple of the little airbrushed drawings I’d rendered for the proposed works, which I have some photographs of.

DE: There are several in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

PK: Yes, and in fact he may have sold those on, but I did four or five, or however many installations there were, and Tim immediately offered me $10, and I thought money! I’ve hit the big time!  Tim and I became friends at that point.  I have talked about being isolated, not knowing artists because I have this job at Claude Neon and I am not a university student, so I am not part of that milieu  – there was Mike Parr who was engaged with his poetry and then suddenly doing something else, and now here’s Tim and then Ian Milliss pops up.  Ian always had an acerbic view, he was a few years younger, by about four or five years, I think. Tim always referred to him as being precocious.  I had already, by 1970, made a connection with David Ahern because I was interested in experimental music, having been interested, via the magazines at East Sydney Tech library, in John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor and the electronic composers in Italy like Berio and Stockhausen in Germany, and so on.  So, I entered the world of avant garde music at the same time as those things I’ve just mentioned, and at that point I found myself in a milieu of intense experimentation, for want of a better way of describing it, in a funny kind of Australian way.

DE: You must have taken leave for your various performances at Inhibodress?  – and you also had to man the space?

PK: This would have been in the evenings during the week, because Mike also had a job part-time teaching at that time and so the gallery, Inhibodress, was open at night, not during the day.  However, it was open Saturday and Sunday 9.30 or 10 through to 5 o’clock.  It was a killer of a regime, I know that.

DE: What always surprises me, when one looks back on exhibitions then, is that they were on for such a short period of time – perhaps two weeks. Did you get the impression that a lot of people came to your first Gallery A show?

PK: Yes, I think they did, and I think people were drawn to it for a variety of reasons obviously, I mean, who knows what would have been in the mind of individuals when they decided to come to see the exhibition, but I think novelty might have been an attractor.  That is the way it was presented in the media by way of the reviews, articles and so on. It was the kind of art the critics were taking seriously, they were writing about it at length and so it must have made it onto the ‘must see agenda’ of interested people who were either vaguely or intensely interested in some way.

DE: …the Donald Brooks, the Terry Smiths.

PK: The Daniel Thomases

DE: That milieu viewed the show

PK: James Gleeson

DE: James Gleeson was very interested. And then your artist colleagues or artists – Tim Johnson, clearly very interested.

PK: Ian Milliss, Neil Evans, might be a name you may have come across, and a few others, whose names don’t immediately leap to mind, but I think there was a cohort of standard Sydney gallery goers who I wouldn’t have known at that point, who hardly knew me, or wouldn’t have known me at all, but would have come to see the show. But by any measure, I regarded it as a success.

DE: It seemed to cause real waves.  What about the financial measure?  How did things work there? I have seen some of the financial statements from the Gallery A files, and my impression of them is that working in neon is an expensive proposition, much more expensive than painting. And when you start working on installations, there are all sorts of other expenses. You had to hire an electrician I presume?

PK: There were two electricians installing the show.

DE: Can you remember how it worked financially with Gallery A?

PK: At the financial level I was pretty naïve. I had assumed, because when one is young one doesn’t ask the necessary questions, that Claude Neon would have done this gratis on the basis of the publicity that followed, but at some later date – this came as a surprise to me – I heard, perhaps through someone in Claude Neon accounts department, that Gallery A hadn’t paid for the production, and this was a surprise.  I had thought that this arrangement revolved around mutual publicity. So when I left Gallery A I left behind several paintings and I imagine that those paintings would have ultimately been sold.  I would not have been paid, rather the money from those sales would most likely have paid the bill.  In talking to John Murphy, who organised the Gallery A show back in 2009, it was mentioned to me that he had seen a painting of mine, which would have been one of the ones that I had left behind, in the collection of – wait for it – Alan Jones!  Alan Jones and Anne Lewis were great chums.

DE: So a collection you don’t really want to confess to being in.

PK: Well, that’s right.  Well, I don’t care really, but I decided not to follow a line of enquiry as to how this was sorted out between Gallery A and Claude Neon.

DE: But clearly well enough for them to mount further exhibitions with you

PK: Well, that’s right. They did the Luminal Sequences exhibition the next year, in 1971.

DE: And they did the joint show with Tim Johnson, and in Melbourne as well.

PK:  I was just blissfully ignorant, probably a good thing.  It would have been too complicated for my simple understanding of life and commerce at that point.

DE: It could have been a real stumbling block if one had to stare down the barrel of costs of  $1,000 odd – one would balk at that.

PK: I would have found myself dealing with some fairly hard-headed, commercially minded people.

DE: One last question.  I was struck, in the Nick Chambers interview you did in 2008, that you said that you hadn’t anticipated how ambient light would affect the space in your first show, and you described the effect rendered, in, I thought, quite sculptural terms.  The air seemed to be filled with this mix of colours, as though you were walking through it.  You have mentioned before that there are certain ambient properties attached to light that you find extremely attractive.  By the time of this first show are such perceptions of light forming the agenda for your work?  Are you interested by this stage in temporality? I am assuming there’s not necessarily any interest on your part in the ways that light has signalled the metaphysical ?  In other words I wonder if you are able to give me a last comment on what was most important to you about the way light worked at this time.

PK:  I’d say probably no to an interest in the metaphysical at the time. I would say yes to the temporal, and that was reflected in the Luminal Sequences exhibition.

DE: Yes indeed, more than with the first (1970) exhibition.

PK: Where the spillage of light and the mixing and remixing of light occurred due to neon tubes turning off and on almost, I think, at random.

DE: Yes, an issue is how these installations address space. It seems to me that you are alluding to expanding interests; there are performance practices and conceptual art propositions involved, but I’m actually talking about a reaction to three-dimensionality.

PK: What I took from Neon Light Installations and carried through into Luminal Sequences was this filling of space either with something immaterial or dematerialised in some way – that leads into an area of enquiry that is about occupying three-dimensional space.  I think Neon Light Installations described space three-dimensionally in a quite particular way, but it is only ever a description until you become aware that light is filling the space, asserting its presence, shall we say, but is a presence of a diffused, elusive character.   When we come to But the fierce black man the space in that case is …

DE: animated?

PK: animated, with sound. It’s colonising the total space with something … both immaterial, ephemeral and, at the same time paradoxically, substantial.

Read part 2 of this interview