«JAMES GLEESON INTERVIEWS: PETER CRIPPS 29 November 1979 JAMES GLEESON: Peter, before we get on to talking about the work of yours that we have in the ...»
JAMES GLEESON INTERVIEWS: PETER CRIPPS
29 November 1979
JAMES GLEESON: Peter, before we get on to talking about the work of yours
that we have in the national collection, could I ask you just a few biographical
questions. First of all, exactly when were you born?
PETER CRIPPS: Thirteenth September 1948.
JAMES GLEESON: And where?
PETER CRIPPS: Sunshine, Victoria.
JAMES GLEESON: I see. So you are a natural—
PETER CRIPPS: Working class boy.
JAMES GLEESON: Born Victorian. How did you come to be interested in art? Is it in the family, any connection with the arts at all?
PETER CRIPPS: No, no.
JAMES GLEESON: Just something that you— PETER CRIPPS: I come from a tradesman’s family, so it’s a trade background. I don’t know, I suppose it’s— JAMES GLEESON: Just there.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes, it’s probably more complex than that. Perhaps social aspirations. I’m not sure.
JAMES GLEESON: But you knew from an early stage that you wanted to be involved with art, or was it later?
PETER CRIPPS: No, I was interested in a number of things, agriculture, and in sort of art-based things. So there’s sort of a mixture there. Also, I mean, as a tradesman’s son I picked up a lot of skills.
JAMES GLEESON: I see.
PETER CRIPPS: Technical skills or using my hands and so on. So that part was very easy.
JAMES GLEESON: Did you make these actual objects in here yourself or were they— 29 November 1979 PETER CRIPPS: Yes, they were made–I’m not sure of the dates–over the period that it was stated.
JAMES GLEESON: Sixty-two to ’74.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes. So they are things that are carried on, initially as sort of a non-art activity. The first things were done as just, you know, things to do, an activity, an interest, and gradually–probably the last ones–they were sort of obviously very art conscious things. I mean, they were very much involved in the aesthetic.
JAMES GLEESON: Yes. Did you go to any formal art school or not?
PETER CRIPPS: Yes, I went to a number of different art schools. I went to Frankston Tech. I can’t tell you the year. I was there doing agriculture and then I started doing art there. Then I think I was at Prahran for a very short time and then I went to RMIT. I spent most of my time at RMIT and I did a year at Melbourne University doing fine arts.
JAMES GLEESON: I see. Now, in all that experience, were there any teachers or any people you came in contact with you that, you know, helped you in a special way?
PETER CRIPPS: Only one person. Surprisingly the most important figures in my life have been women. It was Margaret Plant, or Margaret Gallick–I’m not quite sure which name she uses.
JAMES GLEESON: Where was she?
PETER CRIPPS: She was teaching at RMIT when I was there. I found RMIT a real drought, actually, because I mean I had all the technical skills that I wanted and much more generally it was much as the lecturers there. So I sort of after idea stimulation, conceptual stimulation, and they refused totalk about anything on a conceptual level. I mean, that was sort of unknown territory.
JAMES GLEESON: Yes. This was some years ago?
PETER CRIPPS: Yes. It was when I was at art school and that’s 10, 12 years ago at least.
JAMES GLEESON: I see. So conceptual art then was just not known much.
PETER CRIPPS: I’m not talking about conceptual; by concept I mean a content to an activity. It’s whether you’re involved with, you know, depending on what your interests are, you know, if your involved with painting which was, say, based on yourself or based on, you know, a figurative tradition, well, that’s dealing with certain ideas, you know. I was interested in ideas behind things, you know, the purpose of—I mean, one obvious example, you know, the ideas which or layers
of ideas structure that we have in our society, you know, like religion, social based things, political things and so on, I was interested in them on those levels.
JAMES GLEESON: I see. So you were interested in the ideas of a structure of social—all sorts of ideas.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes, and the only person in all the period–there’s only a number of people–but the only person there that I could talk to, and I only had a very few conversations, perhaps three or four conversations with Margaret Plant.
It was just towards the end of my stay there, and she was very challenging. I mean, she was prepared to talk about things in depth and be critical and analytical about what you were saying, you know. So she’d challenge you on things you’d say. But she’d also add to it and she’d also do further work, because I remember after one conversation we had–I talked about something which I’ve forgotten now–I was impressed by the fact that she'd been interested enough to actually read up something about it, you know. So she came armed with further information, so the conversation instantly went much further ahead.
JAMES GLEESON: That was the stimulus that you sought?
PETER CRIPPS: Yes, yes.
JAMES GLEESON: This would have been before you started this work, Shells of past activity?
PETER CRIPPS: No, I can’t remember when the last one was done. It was probably while I was at art school.
JAMES GLEESON: Seventy-four is the date we have, ’62 to ’74.
PETER CRIPPS: Don’t know. I’d have to work out my age, 48. I don’t know, to tell you the truth, when it was done. But I think it would have been at art school.
JAMES GLEESON: Now, Peter, we’ve got photographs. Just from a purely practical, before we start talking about the work itself, the practical idea of setting it up in the gallery context. Have we got enough information here in these photographs, these photostats, photocopies of photographs, to allow us to set it up? Or do you feel that when we do get the gallery open you should come down and do the setting up yourself?
PETER CRIPPS: Obviously I’d very much like to come and set it up.
JAMES GLEESON: Well, I think that’s the proper way to do it.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes. There’s reasons for it; because they’re unmarked, unless Geoffrey or Frank marked then when they packed them up. They could have because I don’t know what they did. But the tablecloths go with special tables.
See because the tablecloths run in a certain order and because it’s based on a—
329 November 1979
see, it’s the thing of working on labels. There’s the ground sheets, or ground cloths, then there’s the table cloths, then there’s the veils, and separate to that there’s the objects themselves. Now, with the tabletop level there, relates to the objects as objects, okay, and it relates to the year in which they were made. I mean, that’s sort of obvious for itself, a brick wall. That’s a painting, a stage prop of a brick wall. Then that relates to the game. The game I’m talking about is the thing of—I can’t remember all the keys but there’s a little game where you ask people what they think. You ask them to describe, give you a story about certain things. Like, I think there’s a bear and there’s a key, there’s a bridge, there’s a road, and they’re asked to tell you a story about these things. What you do is you read your own nature into it.
JAMES GLEESON: Yes, yes, like the Rorschach tests sort of?
PETER CRIPPS: I don’t know. What’s that?
JAMES GLEESON: Well, you’re shown a series of inkblots and you’re asked to interpret them.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes. That sounds like it, yes.
JAMES GLEESON: You read into them what image you see which tells you something about yourself.
PETER CRIPPS: Sure. Sure.
JAMES GLEESON: Or tells somebody something about yourself. So this is the same sort of thing?
PETER CRIPPS: Well, that’s one layer. Then the other layer are these coloured sheets and the colours also have a colour code, a colour of association. Like certain colours have certain meanings on a general level. I mean, obviously black and white vary from society to society because, I mean, say, like one example– it’s probably not a very good example–but say like, you know, wedding veils or death shrouds. Both of them are similar in way. They change. In one country might be black, might be white, might be red. To the Canary Islands, I think, they use red or something. They cover their head there. See, I mean, colours obviously in a society— JOHN GLEESON: Have a real significance, yes.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes, yes. See but they obviously relate to this society.
JAMES GLEESON: Sure. The first we’ve got to establish is that the arrangement is very exact, very precise, and will have to be done properly in order for the whole thing to be properly reconstructed. So it’s really essential for you to come up when we set it up.
PETER CRIPPS: I’d like to think so.
JAMES GLEESON: Good. Right. How many? There were 12, weren’t there, 12 tables and construction?
PETER CRIPPS: There’s 13. There’s one missing, I think. There should be one of them and there’s a blank spot.
JAMES GLEESON: Was that missing because it just wasn’t ready or there? Or is it a deliberate gap?
PETER CRIPPS: No, no. See, the things were made over a period of time, Okay? Most of them were made in my father’s workshop. It’s a very strange workshop because I think it sort of represents sort of, I suppose, my family to some extent, represents sort of post war society in values. Everything was kept, virtually everything was kept, very little was thrown away. Perhaps you know more about the period than I do but it seemed to me that that related to the sort of scarcity of things and, you know, the striving–like the emphasis placed on education for their children–striving for certain values. Anyway, these things were made and they were stored away in cardboard boxes and it was very much like a process of contemporary archaeology. While I was in Tasmania thinking about the ideas, things that I’ve been interested in, I decided to bring them together and make an exhibition out of them because there was more than they’re numbered here, but this was all I was able to find. So I went back and did this archaeological dig in my household shed and they were identified. Some I knew the dates of, but others were identified by objects and things in the box around them. Like they’d put away with plaster ducks or newspapers or there was something else there.
JAMES GLEESON: So you were dating them by— PETER CRIPPS: Dating them by the dig.
JAMES GLEESON: Really like archaeology?
PETER CRIPPS: Yes, yes. So that’s that part of it. See, and there’s two showings. I talk in a probably very circular fashion so I jump all around over the place. There’s two showings; there’s a showing at Yurengary and then there’s a showing in Sydney.
JAMES GLEESON: At Watters.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes. The thing of that was an active state and a shell.
JAMES GLEESON: Completed, yes, final.
PETER CRIPPS: Now, what I was meaning by that, I didn’t sort of take in—in many ways it was sort of misread. But what I was meaning by that is the fact of
an object of a period. Like, I mean, the reason we call an art deco object an art deco object is that for some reason it’s value—you know, like these two objects are seen in relation to the period, they’re not special. They’re an object of the thing. But within a period of time they become an object that’s lost its initial life and it becomes an object of a different nature. That’s what I was describing. That these were objects of perhaps you might say my childhood, my intellectual development or my intellectual technical development. They were put away in boxes with other objects that were from that time or, you know, things from our family and so on. So that the difference in the two showings was the first one was to emphasise that they’d been active.
JAMES GLEESON: Were they active during the exhibition?
PETER CRIPPS: Some of them were; some of them were past it in a true sense.
But I was placing the emphasis on being active.
JAMES GLEESON: Yes. But they did have another kind of existence and life in the past.
PETER CRIPPS: They weren’t made to work during the exhibition because I didn’t want to for it to become a side issue.
JAMES GLEESON: No.
PETER CRIPPS: I think because it’s very entertaining to see little spurts of steam. Yes. Then that would have quite easily gone off at another tangent. You know, it would be preoccupied with— JAMES GLEESON: With the action that’s going on at the particular moment.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes. Rather than what I was talking about was the thing of— because there’s quite a lot of difference between this exhibition and the other. It was rather the thing I was talking about was the objects themselves in their situation. Also on the tables, you’ll remember the photocopy.
JAMES GLEESON: Newspapers.
PETER CRIPPS: Yes, and the book slips, call slips from the library.
JAMES GLEESON: Yes, yes. Are they all related to that particular period of that particular object?
PETER CRIPPS: Yes. In the previous exhibition there was only the tablecloths and there wasn’t the floor cloths or the veils.
JAMES GLEESON: Oh, I see, yes.
PETER CRIPPS: Now, the veils symbolised to me that they were the thing of like entering du Prel’s projection. Du Prel’s projection is a projection of higher space.
Now, that was the floor cloth being one dimension, also the floor cloth being two dimension, table cloth being the three dimension, and above the veil or the veil of mystery, the steam, you know, water’s a nice symbol because it goes through, you know, from liquid to a solid to a gas–or the other way around, from a solid to a liquid to a gas–and the gas symbolising the veil or the unknown. I thought that was probably a bit misread.
JAMES GLEESON: So there is that symbolic layer to the whole thing as well.