Peter Atkins is an artist who has just finished the late early part of his middle career. He’s yet to go over the hump into middle-middle career where inspiration is something you have to work hard at, and he going along very nicely. But building up a relationship with his work is difficult because it’s now a case of liking it because you like it. Like Kovacs, it feels like you have a pretty good idea of what he’s doing.
Atkins happily admits he’s a design-based artist and that there’s nothing intrinsically meaningful in what he’s saying – but then again, maybe there is – and he’s an aesthete who collects up things and makes them into art. It’s a self-perpetuating working method that’s based entirely on Atkins’ collections. He collects fluff balls, cardboard from boxes and postage stamps off the internet and spoons from parks and keeps them for future reference. He then takes the shapes he likes and makes painting out of them by using an outline of the shape. Sometimes he varies the sizes, sometimes he uses blue instead of red, sometimes he uses the negative space around the shape rather than the shape itself.
What’s of interest in Atkins’ latest show The World Around Me at Sherman Galleries, is that his popular ‘diaries’ are being slowly edged out of the official body of work. These diaries are his collections of source materials that he lines up in rows, sticks them to wooden boards and then exhibitins them. Occasionally, like in the series that are secreted around the back of Sherman’s big wall, he’ll put objects into bags. In the Sherman show there are collections of stamps sorted by subject – frogs, birds, dogs, Madonna and child – from all around the world.
From a decorative, pattern making point of view, Atkins is a very good painter. His eye for composition is amazing, and the three dimensional qualities of the colours he’s used in this show are akin to looking at the paintings with 3-D glasses on. But to us, the collections are far more interesting than the paintings. There’s a curious element of the obsessive and the artist’s choice in the selection says far more about him than the canvases. It’s not as craft based, that we can see, and the selection of items puts the artist at once-remove from the works, but we also really like the slightly shame-faced attitude he has – it’s like he’s saying, ‘this is what I’m really interested in, but I shouldn’t really be showing it to you.’ Go on, show us!