Pursuing the suburban dreaminess in paint

STUDIO ARTIST: Peter Lankas is a Newcastle-based painter who paints the things he sees everyday.

STUDIO ARTIST: Peter Lankas is a Newcastle-based painter who paints the things he sees everyday.

The Star catches up with Newcastle painter Peter Lankas to talk about his art

A PAINTING hanging in the studio of Newcastle painter Peter Lankas depicts a car park in Merewether with a single panel-van wedged into one of the parking spots. The spectacular Bar Beach headland looms in the distance but with insignificance. It is the car park itself that has caught the artist’s eye.

“It’s a place I knew well, I had a granny flat for 10 years that was just around the corner,” Lankas said. 

“I generally paint things that I see again and again and again, and they catch my eye and I think there is something there to be painted.

“Things have to grab my gut or my heart and then I start thinking about them...it has to be something that will pull me in.”

It is an intense interest in the mundane, the ordinary and the every day that underpins his work. And while the suburban landscape is often a focus, he does not see himself as a landscape painter, at least not in the traditional sense. 

“I have painted the suburban landscape because it is around me and I live in the suburbs,” he said.

“I look at things as more of an object and a thing to be explored, if it is in the landscape I could be a landscape painter, but I dont think of myself as a landscaper painter.”

His paintings are impressionistic but he also describes himself as a “closet abstractionist” because it is the pattern, shape, colour and form of the object which interests him.

“It is not the thing itself, its the energy of it, the colours, the rhythms, the patterns and mood of it,” he said.

“I am interested in capturing a sense of place about suburbia, or the place where we live, and capturing the moments that might catch your eye.”

“My work is about making an impression of an object to capture an impression of it rather than how it really is.”

“Looking for its gesture, looking for its movement, looking for its overall essence that makes itself visible to us.”

He has completed bodies of work on service stations and shopping centres. He painted the Merewether car park because it was a place he knew well. Despite the often ordinariness of the subject matter the work is masterfully executed. 

For Lankas art has been a life-long pursuit. 

“I have been drawing and painting ever since I could crawl on the floor and picked up a crayon or pencil,” he said. 

He thought he should be like his grandfather and be a lawyer, and so after finishing high school he enrolled at the University of Sydney. But his legal aspirations did not last long.

After a year at university, where fellow students kept asking “what are you doing at uni, you should be at art school” he realised art was a better choice. He enrolled in the Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education and began formal training. This was followed by post-graduate study at the Sydney Art Institute where he continued  to focus on painting.

Born in the Czech Republic he grew up in Sydney, moving to Newcastle in 2000, but not before spending 10 years in a Theravada Buddhist meditation centre in Perth.

“I went there for a year and blinked and it was 10 years,” he said. 

“I really had no intention of leaving, but never say never.”

After leaving the centre he joined his family in Northern Queensland.

“I guess after 10 years of absence, what do you do?...I went to the nearest art shop and bought some art supplies,” he said.

Within six months he was teaching art at TAFE. He was 40 years old. A couple of years later he relocated to Newcastle where again things quickly fell into place. He began teaching art at Ron Hartree School of Art.

“I walked in on the day he lost one of his teachers, I walked in at the right time...again I landed on my feet,” he said. 

He completed a masters at the University of Newcastle where he also began teaching. In 2005 he got a job at Hunter Street TAFE teaching drawing and art and continues to work there. 

Teaching and making his own art is something of a balancing act, Lankas says.

“You try to work as much as you can.”

“It is two committed jobs and it’s hard to squeeze all that in.”

His paintings are completed alla prima and says his practise of meditation does inform his work.

“I am interested in the moment...It’s got to do with being mindful of the moment, being present, if you like,” he said. 

A few years ago Lankas became allergic to the solvents in paint. He now uses processes developed by the masters to make his own paints. 

“There is not a drop of solvent in the studio,” he said. 

“I have been making my own paint for about a year now.

“It has changed my painting practise a lot. I have scaled things down because I don’t have the studio assistants to make the quantity of paint I could just slosh around,” he said. 

“The technique of working without solvents is different to working with solvents, it gives you a different look and physicality to the paint.”

He has a relationship with Gallery 139 in Beaumont Street, Hamilton, but also participates in group shows at other galleries. He also exhibits in Sydney. 

He will be in a group show at 139 Gallery from May 24 to June 4.

He and artist Dane Tobias, who Lankas, has mentored will be in a second group show at the same gallery in which mentors will exhibit with mentees from August 31, until September 17.

He will also hold a solo show at the same gallery from November 2 until 19.