Don Peebles

Don Peebles’s † Biography

Icons 2007
A key figure in the emergence and evolution of New Zealand abstract art, Don Peebles, ONZM, was known as a leading force in contemporary New Zealand painting. He was one of the country’s most respected practitioners.

Don Peebles was born in 1922 in Taneatua near Whakatane. His family moved to Wellington two years later and he attended Wadestown Primary School and Wellington College, before leaving to deliver telegrams for the Post Office in 1937. He saw active service in the army from 1941 to 1945 in the Pacific and Italy, studying art in Florence briefly at the war's end before returning to New Zealand and the Wellington Post Office. Don attended classes at the Wellington Technical College Art School from 1947 to 1950 until a leave of absence from the Post Office enabled him to study fulltime at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney from 1951 to 1953.

An award from the Association of New Zealand Arts Societies in 1960 enabled Don to travel to London for further study. There, he met Constructionist artist Victor Pasmore. The works of Pasmore and other Constructionists influenced Don to embark on a style of painting that tried 'to get at the essence of things - to keep pushing back the boundaries'. Upon his return in 1962 he became the first artist in New Zealand to explore constructionist abstraction, and became renowned for painted relief constructions, usually framed in shallow trays. This technique allowed for an exploration of the effects and interplay of light and shadow on forms. In the late 1970s he began working with looser elements, in particular un-stretched canvas with no frames which became the prime material of his constructions. In the 1990s he returned to works on a smaller scale utilising small tray frames.

In 1965 Don was appointed to the staff of the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts, becoming Head of the Painting Department in 1980. Don retired in 1986 and returned to painting fulltime. His work has been acquired by both public and private collections in New Zealand and internationally. He was recognised as one of New Zealand's most important abstract artists.

Don was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit, (ONZM) in 1999 for his services to New Zealand art. In 2003 Don was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Literature by the University of Canterbury. He received an Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2007.

Don Peebles died on 27 March 2010 at the age of 88