Tenderly lifted from the pages of National Geographic, thumbed encyclopaedias and found photographs, old images find new life in the airborne works of Peter Madden. The artist has a consuming passion for visual recycling, dedicatedly pilfering second-hand bookshops and internet trading sites for his library of photographic imagery. Rescued from a life of garage mildew or stagnation in a dentist's waiting room, Madden imbues these pictures with renewed purpose. In his hands they are painstakingly cut out, pinned, balanced, layered and juxtaposed to create paper microcosms bursting with colour and form.
Liberating them from their original context, Madden bestows his cut-outs with the gift of three-dimensionality: snakes multiply amid the pages of an Oxford dictionary; a Christ figure blooms with tropical flora even as he endures crucifixion; butterflies, birds and flowers float and spiral in fantastic constructions that sprout from everyday (shoes, books, chairs) and not so everyday (axes, skeletons, animal heads) objects. In turn, these objects are infused with the whimsy children often feel towards the inanimate, waiting for nightfall to see their toys come alive.
It is evident Madden labours over every minute detail and his is definitely an eye for the aesthetically delightful. His chosen images are rich in hue and saturation. Gold is used to posit value and preciousness, although perhaps a mocking Midas touch when applied to objects such as baseball bats and bike seats. Yet beauty is often shadowed by its eventual withering, and Madden joins the long line of artists tantalised by their own mortality. The fragile existence of flowers and insects has been employed symbolically in still-life paintings since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the vanitas tradition, such subject matter is coupled with skulls and overripe fruit - artistic harbingers of human transience. So too, life, death and the passage of time is ever-present in Madden's work; birds and butterflies encircle rocking chairs and walking canes in pieces such as Holding on forever/suspense, 2008, and Walking mushrooms, 2007 ...
This article appears in excerpted form. You can read the entire article in Art & Australia's Autumn 2010 issue.