Peter Madden


Necrolopolous by Peter Madden

Artwork Detail

Described by Tessa Laird as 'Robin Hood with a scalpel blade', Peter Madden creates fantastical worlds from ancient National Geographics and abandoned Encyclopaedias, liberating the riches of their pages. The objects he crafts are like props and sets for some surreal Brothers Grim fairytale: a pair of leather shoes becomes home to delicate paper butterflies; a doe-eyed deer is crowned with a colony of the same; the city of the dead is updated for the 21st-century.

A nightmarish microcosm, Necrolopolous is populated by a strange menagerie of birds, animals and insects. Just in case you had any doubt as to your location, the city's associations with death are writ, like the Hollywood sign, for all to see. But this is no tinsel town. It has skyscrapers, the obligatory abstracted civic sculpture, yet a Ferris wheel is mounted on top of one of the buildings, while another structure is crowned by a graveyard. Tiny elephants are dwarfed by birds which circle above them and edifices are draped with gigantic cobwebs. In this blackened cityscape Madden's use of colour is seductive, the textures and tones of his cutouts draw the eye in.

His works have an abiding fascination with death and the passing of time. Skulls are painted on flies or loom from the rooftops; roses in full bloom become symbols of vanitas, like the magnificent livery of the butterflies their fleeting beauty exemplifying the transience of life; even the buildings are skeletal. However, the miniature world empowers you through its scale. Of relatively Brobdingnagian proportions you tower over the city like the eye of god. You hold the position of power over death.

Confronted with Madden's Necrolopolous, a city of the dead (or is it a dead city?) one gets the sense of the passing of a civilisation and the attendant loss. The history of humanity is filled with destruction, whether on the scale of Carthage or those lesser known tragedies. This city of the dead bears resemblances to scenes in living memory, with its twin towers and blackened remains; its prison fences and watchtowers. To borrow from the English novelist H. G. Wells, who advocated the fighting of model 'Little Wars' in place of World ones, 'How much better is this amiable miniature than the Real Thing!… no smashed nor sanguinary bodies, no shattered fine buildings nor devastated country sides.'

Jane Davidson

Gallery News, Nov 05 - Feb 06

Peter Madden
Production date
mixed media
1100 x 900 x 1600 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 2005
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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