The day had gone by just as days go by
-- Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
Nostalgia comes more easily to some people than others. There are people who, armed with Instagram’s patented ‘1977’ filter, can summon up buckets of nostalgia even while the events in question are still happening. Then there are people who, armed with Season 2 of Extreme Clutter, will throw away their grandfather’s watch without blinking. There are those who are impervious to the charms of the past, and those for whom the present is just something to be endured for the sake of future memories. The phrases “live for the moment” and “live for the memories” each have almost 1.5 million hits on Google – and with a burgeoning market in products that deliver Instant Nostalgia, it seems that lots of people want to do both.
Within this culture, Peter Atkins’ recent show at Melbourne’s Tolarno Galleries carves out an interesting place. Called “The Monopoly Project”, it consists of abstract renditions of Monopoly’s well-known title cards with all the writing removed, leaving only the black borders and the signature strips of colour at the top. Still instantly recognisable for what they represent, the works ask the viewer to superimpose their own memories onto the invitingly blank canvas. At the same time, their very austerity rebukes you for being such a sop, if only because they’re so far removed from the sepia-toned, lavender-scented, soft-hued forms that anything claiming to be nostalgic usually assume.
To take something as memory-laden as Monopoly and express it in the clean-cut lines of high abstraction is typical of Atkins’ practice. In previous works, he has appropriated street signs, advertising, condom wrappers, packaging, and Disney’s paint sample cards. Translating these into abstract forms, he removes the superfluous and retains the recognisable, thus allowing for a new appreciation of the everyday objects. In the catalogue essay for “The Monopoly Project”, Francis E. Parker describes the ‘game’ that Atkins engages in: “to bring items from the real world, with all of their rich and worldly associations, into play with the language of abstract painting”. It’s appropriate, then, that Atkins has taken a game to be the subject of his game.
As with previous shows, Atkins exhibited the reference material (in this case, the 1973 game of Monopoly that he’d played as a child) alongside the paintings. Looking at it, I recall the games I played with my sister as a child. I recall the capitalist zeal with which we declared the jail to be valid real estate, then built hotels on it and made the prisoners pay. Atkins once said of his work that he tries to “encode the contours and strata of history” into the simplest possible lines and forms. And his simple, stark, abstract forms might just give your sepia filter a run for its money.