View of “Peter Tyndall,” 2022–23. Photo: Christian Capurro.

View of “Peter Tyndall,” 2022–23. Photo: Christian Capurro.

Peter Tyndall

Over half a century, Peter Tyndall’s oeuvre has undergone an enigmatic evolution. This survey, comprising more than two hundred works, begins with a single black-and-white painting from 1993 of the pictogram that in 1974 Tyndall conceived of as his primary symbol and which he has continued using ever since: a square with two vertical lines protruding from the top like antennae, signifying a painting and its hanging wires.

Having emerged in Melbourne in the mid-1970s, Tyndall is associated with that city’s distinctive postmodernist scene, with its tongue-in-cheek intersection of European modernism and Australian vernacular, a mode also characteristic of peers such as Dale Hickey and Robert Rooney. Tyndall consistently foregrounds the regional by signing off his correspondence from Bonzaview (the name of his home in Hepburn Springs—bonza being Australian slang for excellent), and rubber-stamping works on paper with his fictional FOSTERVILLE INSTITUTE OF APPLIED & PROGRESSIVE EXPERIENCE (after the tiny mining town where Tyndall began making art in 1972). Yet Tyndall’s practice is best defined not by adherence to any particular style or movement but by his long-term and unwavering commitments to a few fundamental aesthetic decisions: to reproducing his pictogram and the diamond matrix made by repeating it along intersecting diagonal axes; to hanging his paintings on two wires visible above the canvas rather than hidden behind it; to locating the site of his practice at Bonzaview and the Fosterville Institute; to naming all his artworks identically: detail / A Person Looks At A Work Of Art / someone looks at something . . . ; and to designating his own wall labels, which he insists accompany his artworks—even if that means double labels at the more pedantic institutions.

Tyndall’s pictogram is an exercise in reduction that nods at the modernist teleology of self-referential painting, but his continual emphasis on the hanging wire signifies the work’s connection with the world beyond its frame. Witness the introduction, in 1979, of a sole figure or nuclear family regarding the pictogram. These figures are rendered in cartoonlike outlines and are illuminated by a bare lightbulb—recurring tropes in his paintings that are distinctly anti-hermetic. Like fractals, Tyndall’s artworks zoom inward and outward—replicating themselves at different scales. This telescoping quality is channeled in the detailed scale model of the old artist-run Melbourne gallery Art Projects, where Tyndall exhibited in 1980. Other projects include his LOGOS/ HA HA text works, which encompass large-scale painting and ready-made assemblages; his experimental music outfit Slave Guitars; and his Puppet Culture Framing System, whereby his pictures’ hanging wires are replaced by stylized marionette controls.

A messier side of Tyndall’s practice unfurls in more recent work, evidence of the refreshing latitude of his practice as it develops. We encounter a banner from his protest against the National Gallery of Victoria after it temporarily banned drawing in its galleries in 2004, and a monumental wall of quick, posterlike paintings from 2018, each a fleeting and radiant thought experiment. Also on view is his correspondence with sports-mad art historian Chris McAuliffe concerning Tyndall’s beloved Australian Football League team, the St. Kilda Saints. In the same vitrine, preparatory sketches depict a Saints player “taking a specky”—that is, catching the ball “spectacularly”—by jumping atop a Melbourne Demons player’s back. Tyndall subtitles another variation of this composition The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism, a witticism indicative of his abiding sense of humor as well as his capacity to see art history unfolding everywhere—as if on the pages of a great Mnemosyne Atlas.

Wisecracks aside, there is something unmistakably spiritual about Tyndall’s works, which arts writer Pamela Hansford once described as “designs for worship.” Though he developed an appreciation of Zen Buddhism, he was raised a devout Catholic. A fishing net cast over one wall is both a metonym for Tyndall’s matrix and, as a friend of mine perceptively noted, a reference to the Apostles’ task of becoming “fishers of men.” The interplay of the pictogram and matrix is, it seems, Tyndall’s theology. He inscribed on a yellow matrix from 2000: I DREAMED THAT THE DIAMOND MATRIX REPRESENTS LOVE “BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS SHARED.”