It’s interesting to see the way horror themes emerge in ‘fine art,’ in contrast with the more stereotypical leering skulls and scantily clad women found in the illustration world. Peter Booth, whose recent work is on show at Rex Irwin’s gallery in Sydney until 23 July, is a painter who has never shied away from disturbing imagery. His early work engaged directly with the horrific. One of the best known paintings of this period, Painting 1982, is a large-scale depiction of what looks like Hell. Dismemberment, cannibalism and monstrous scavenging creatures crowd the canvas in the manner of one of Bosch’s nightmarish visions.
In later years, there’s been a move away from the early fiery visions to a snowy world of lumpen figures and bleak landscape. The paintings are less overtly grotesque, more mysterious. All Booth’s works are simply titled “Painting,” making their meanings less graspable while at the same time more open to interpretation. This latest exhibition is the ‘calmest’ I’ve seen, but there’s still a sense of implicit violence in Booth’s roughly hewn male portraits—something ogreish, ugly and primal. There is a direct connection between these heads and those of the flesh-eating ghouls in Painting 1982.
A 2005 Booth exhibition at Rex Irwin was similarly bleak and cold, but had a visionary quality that the current show lacks. The bandaged or blanketed figures in this past exhibition were similar to the blind or dying men and women Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum places in a post-apocalyptic Iceland: wordless and isolated.