Don Peebles was one of the pioneers of modern painting in New Zealand. He began his training at the Wellington Technical College of Art in 1947, he then moved to Australia and studied under John Passmore, a leading Australian painter at the time, at the Julian Ashton School of Arts in Sydney.
In 1960, Peebles won an award to study in London where he came under the influence of the progressive British artist Victor Pasmore, a formalist influenced by de Stijl and Russian Constructivism. From this period of training Peebles set off exploring relief & constructions. At the time they had a cerebral geometric basis, often with underlying strict grid formations.
In 1964 Peebles returned to New Zealand and gained a lectureship at Canterbury University. He continued to lecture at the University of Canterbury until his retirement from teaching in 1984 and then retirement from the University itself in 1986 to concentrate on painting full-time. Peebles canvas relief works are organic in form, utilising unstretched canvas which hangs from the surface of the wall like gills or membranes to create the feeling of a living, breathing being. In others the surface of the construction remains flatter with interweaving strips of canvas on the face of the work holding down one loose expressive gesture giving the feeling of a casual, quick decision, when in fact every act is carefully considered and executed.
Peebles’ smaller studies and reliefs often have the feel of an architectural model about them. With the knowledge that they could be scaled up there is a tension of potentiality created.
Later in his life Peebles became a recipient of the Arts Foundation’s Icon Awards, which were launched in 2003 and are limited to a group of 20 living artists. Peebles was recognised by the Arts Foundation for his contributions to the Arts, in particular as a maverick abstract artist in the conservative New Zealand of 50 years ago. The award sits alongside Peebles’ New Zealand Order of Merit awarded in 1999 for his Services to New Zealand Art and an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from the University of Canterbury in 2003.
Don Peebles is represented in public and private collections both in New Zealand and overseas and has exhibited in both solo and group exhibitions since 1949.