Peter Cripps

Untitled works: Proposals for a play
Bellas Gallery, Brisbane
Feb 11 - 22, 1987

The twenty-six watercolours in this exhibition function as stage designs for Cripps’ proposed play which will be “loosely based” on Percy Grainger 91882-1961), the Melbournian pianist and composer.

Although Grainger is best known for his use of folk music as a source of inspiration, Cripps’ paintings cast Grainger in a modernist utopian fantasy.

Cripps admits that this necessitates a fair degree of poetic license, but is also able to back up his proposition with the fact that Grainger was involved in private avant-gardist experiments from some very futurist-looking mechanisms.[1]

Cripps is aware of these “Free Music” machines due to his extensive research in the Grainger museum, a museum Grainger erected in the grounds of Melbourne University.

The construction of this museum provides the focus for Cripps’ proposed play and the watercolours, the fascination being that, to some extent, Grainger was involved in erecting a monument to himself. This could be interpreted as a somewhat egotistical project, but in the narrative proposed in Cripps' watercolours this element of egotism is treated in heroic terms.

Stage by stage in the watercolours we see the museum developing, from tabletop model into a glorious art deco Utopian vision where the museum is set in a Metropolis-like environment surrounded by phallic art-deco towers, factory chimneys, or early Soviet architecture such as that of the Vesnin brothers or Komorov, Veinstein, and Muchinsky.

Many of the pictures indicate a blank, featureless figure, which appears to be a male onlooker: perhaps a personification of the Modernist, masculine creative spirit. The figure often gazes at the Utopian panoply with the aid of an optical device which may be an optical tube or a gun-sight. Such apparatuses indicate the analytic characteristics of the modernist vision. A type of vision reflected, perhaps, in Grainger's use of mechanisms to produce music.

With the benefit of hindsight we can see this modernist vision as one that calculates, regulates and systematises. And with the benefit of hindsight we castigate this rationalising, totalising vision. But Cripp's watercolours seem to remind us that in its own time modernism, for all its egotism, was an idealistic movement which had little idea of what history had in store for its rational, technological "Utopia".

Thus by superimposing the grand narrative of modernism onto Grainger's museum project, Cripps seems to argue that Grainger's somewhat egotistical monument must be taken in the context of a supremely confident, and heroic, Utopian idealism which we cannot help admiring, in spite of the fact that this idealism now lies in ruins.

[1] See Peter Cripps. Recession Art and Other Strategies - (exh. cat). Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art, 1986, p. 3.

Peter Cripps Untitled Work