Skull-Rack 1993
oil and enamel on wood
240 x 240cm
image courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney;
Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide;
and Bett Gallery, Hobart
Gene and Brian Sherman collection, Sydney

By the Collector

I appreciate Peter’s sense of narrative. In this sense, the inclusion of Atkins’ work in the collection is a reference to my appreciation of and interest in the background to the works themselves. The story behind the work is important. The reference to Naga textiles is another unintentional reference to my attraction to works involving textiles. I was attracted to Peter’s practice as a whole, in particular his obsessive collection of everyday objects which form the basis of much of his work.
Gene Sherman

By the Artist

Skull-Rack from 1993 was painted in my Redfern studio after my first visit to India in 1992 and shortly before my return to New Delhi the following year to undertake a residency for the upcoming XIII Triennale-India exhibition. These experiences while living and travelling through India provided an avalanche of material that influenced my work for years afterwards.
Many paintings from this early period of my practice including Quilt, Prayer Rug and the Katab paintings produced during the Indian residency referenced tribal textiles. One of the pivotal moments during my first trip to India was a visit to the National Crafts Museum, which houses a vast collection of textiles and objects. I was especially interested in the narrative rich embroideries and appliqués found in many tribal cultures. Particular interests of mine at this time were the sculptures and textiles from Nagaland in North-eastern India. The Craft Museum had a spectacular collection of exquisite handwoven Naga body cloths from this region as well as a number of Naga wooden carvings, including shields, spears, ornaments and human effigies.
Skull-Rack is based on my memories of seeing this collection and loosely relates to the objects seen in the museum as well as the floating appliquéd forms found in many Naga and Indian textiles. The white forms floating over an indigo ground represent the skulls taken in battle by the fierce Naga warriors – brought back as trophies to the village and displayed in skull racks as a reminder of their strength and dominance over other villagers. The deep indigo is a colour I associate with the Nagas and references the traditional body cloths of Nagaland.
Looking back at these early paintings, I can see the foundations forming for my future, mature practice. The forms are becoming tighter and more condensed, which was a conscious move away from the abstract expressionist approach so prominent when I went through the National Art School in the mid-1980s. These works show the first tentative steps towards relaying what was experienced, rather than, as in earlier works from 1987, 1988, and 1989, my interest in biblical and cultural mythologies.
Although my work has developed quite significantly from this painting over the past 20 years, there are many core fundamentals that remain. I still work on a similar scale and continue to use plywood and old tarpaulins as a ground for my floating, painted forms. I also remain interested in the inherent narratives of found materials and continue to be influenced by objects from the real world, seen or collected, which document my personal experience within the landscape.

Artist’s CV 1988

Living in Northern Wales, London and Israel