Peter Dailey. Image: Gail RobinsonIt’s as good as it gets

Peter Dailey by Gail Robinson
Peter Dailey has been balancing his vocation as an artist with his living as an art teacher for decades. As the selected artist for a remarkable sculptural opportunity Peter is finally free to dedicate himself completely to his art practice and life couldn’t be better.

Philanthropic group, The Syndicate, commissioned Peter to create ten life-size sculptures interpreting the figure for The Syndicate Project II – Apparition. For two years now he has had complete creative and financial freedom to do this, allowing him to cut back on his duties at Midland TAFE for the first time in 20 years.

One of a new generation of contemporary sculptors emerging through The Claremont School of Art, Peter originally sat on a panel to write the three-year Environmental Art & Design course for TAFE and was then asked to teach. This has not been without its bureaucratic challenges, and to say that Peter was simply a teacher of art at Midland is an understatement according to colleagues, who believe that Peter was instrumental in preserving, overhauling and almost single-handedly holding together a unique art school.

Reviewing the impact of such a commitment, Peter explains, “To me teaching is about giving, about fulfilling my social obligation to community, but there was a time when my practice was almost swamped by education. As an artist though, I’d made a pact to my vocation so I kept pressing on with practice.

Peter Dailey, Meek (detail), 2013. Metal, wood, fibreglass, acrylic/oil paint, PETG. Image: Eva Fernandez“Nonetheless I did find that teaching can stop an artist from getting intellectually lazy. Working alone in the shed an artist can get a bit cabin-bound. Teaching, on the other hand, is like a conversation – it isn’t one-sided and you can never assume students know less than you. Their questioning drove me to constantly re-evaluate my thinking.”

As a teacher, Peter’s heart was in drawing out what people had inside them.

“Often that meant encouraging them to access their past,” he says, “and helping them to understand that it is important.”

Peter agrees that his past has made an important contribution to his own art. Recurring themes like machinery, religion and social consciousness can arguably be traced back to the fact that his father worked for a brass foundry and the Church. Another motif, plant-life, could be connected to Peter’s trips through rural countryside to school from his childhood home in Victoria’s lush Otways.

This insight is clearer now that he is completely focused on his practice. “I think working in education possibly took me away from an understanding of my own blueprint,” he says. “Being committed to bigger projects over a period of time like The Syndicate Project, I can start to see that blueprint.”

The art school at Midland is closing next year so Peter is unsure if he will continue in education. What he can say with certainty is, “Being able to give 100 per cent to the Syndicate Project is as good as it gets! Freedom is something for any artist to aspire to and this is the closest I’ve ever been.”

The Syndicate Project II – Apparition was on exhibition at Fremantle Arts Centre from 13 April to 2 June 2013. 

Gail Robinson is a freelance writer and media consultant to artists and arts organisations. She has been published by all of WA’s major media.

This article featured in the Artsource Newsletter, Autumn 2013.