Peter Churcher: Contemporary Figurative Master

by Roselea Fitzpatrick, Apr 18, 2019

 Cover Artwork: Peter Churcher, Paul in a Foetal Position

"The whole concept of getting a likeness is very peculiar because, in a sense probably some of the greatest likenesses I have ever captured are when I was not even trying to get a likeness, or not even thinking about it. In other words, I was just sketching a person in a room and I was not trying to portray their likeness. What I am trying to say is sometimes the more you think about getting a likeness the further you get away from it.

You have to trust your initial instincts in what you observe. The other curious thing about likeness, and I always have this sensation when I am painting portraits, and I often do take some photographs because they can be useful after sessions are over and the sitters have gone. I can use the photographs to refer to for little details in the portrait like the clothing or a hand or something that still needs some finishing. So, they are useful for that”.

(Peter Churcher, on capturing a likeness: Transcribed from A Portrait in Barcelona, a documentary, made by collector Peter Hylands' Creative Cowboy film production company, about the art of portraiture with Peter Churcher, in Spain and at the National Portrait Gallery in London.)

  Artwork: Peter Churcher, Sasha's Back

Peter Churcher was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1964. Although he actually started out training as a classical pianist, with his mother, Betty Churcher, being an artist, senior arts administrator and former Director of the National Gallery of Australia, and his father, Ross Churcher, a well-known artist, it was perhaps inevitable that Peter Churcher would also become an artist. Travelling through Europe after gaining his Licentiate for Piano Performance from Trinity College, London, he visited a great many galleries and was persuaded to return to his original preoccupation, painting. After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) in Melbourne in 1991 he held his first solo exhibit in 1994. He has since held numerous solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and has been represented in many group exhibitions across the country. Combined, these solo and group exhibitions number in the several dozens.


Recognised as one of the leading exponents of figurative painting in Australia, his paintings deal primarily with the human subject in portraiture and group figure narrative subjects.


"Churcher prefers to paint the people that he sees in the streets rather than professional models. These ordinary people, with their own personality and natural energy, appear and often reappear in his paintings.  In 2002 he travelled to the Middle East as an official war artist, painting aspects of army life often neglected by press photographers. His images of the sailors, engine-room stokers, flying officers and fighter pilots aboard HMAS Kanimbla now form part of the collection of the Australian War Memorial."

Michael Reid, The Art Oracle, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 2007


Churcher's highly collectable work is represented in many major public, corporate and private collections throughout Australia and overseasincluding the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, The National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, The Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Parliament House, Victoria, the Collection of Kerry Stokes, Western Australia and the Collection of William S. Lieberman, USA

  Artwork: Peter Churcher, Aeneas Leaving Carthage

His time in the middle east and subsequent visits to Europe prompted a move to Barcelona where Churcher is currently living and working. Prior to his relocation there from Melbourne, collectors and filmmakers, Peter and Andrea Hylands, who are huge fans of his work, made a film on Churcher and his processes, Peter Churcher: The Master at Work  (Creative Cowboy film), a must-see for anyone who wants to know how an artist goes about his practise.  They also later travelled to Barcelona and the National Portrait Gallery in London to film the documentary, A Portrait in Barcelona, capturing Churcher’s portraiture processes, featuring the painting of a portrait of the pair of them.

  Artwork: Peter Churcher, Portrait of Peter and Andrea Hylands (Portrait in Barcelona)

Peter Hylands Interviews Peter Churcher for The Master at Work, a Creative Cowboy film.

Peter Hylands: … I think a really interesting part of how you develop your paintings is that you often use recurrent models in the paintings. So, you use a group of people, which constantly changes, but you often use the same model in different paintings. Is that something unusual or...?

Peter Churcher:  Well… the sort of traditional art school or studio practise is that you have a studio nude and you paint the figure quite anonymously and in a way that does not really matter who the person is. They are just a body or a type that you are painting. …. It became very evident to me, very quickly, that I was more interested in the person than in the body. I still do paint nudes, but I am much more interested in the whole humanity and the actual presence of the human being in the canvas. For that reason, when I find a person that somehow brings out something in me as a painter, or there is some connection with them, I of course use them again and again.

Peter Hylands:  That notion of having some people nude in a painting and some people with clothes on, well you’ve done that a few times, haven’t you?

Peter Churcher:  That’s right and I have done paintings that have quite consciously brought the two together in an exploration of having clothed and unclothed figures in the same picture incongruously.

  Artwork: Peter Churcher, September

The Hylands’ deep respect for Churcher’s artistry is evident in the tone of their documentaries and the number of his paintings held in their collection. These works, along with the rest of their sizable and significant collection of Australian art, were intended for long term display, as a resource for all Australians, in their historical rural Victorian property. A stoush with official bodies over the property has made that dream impossible. Not wanting their collection to languish, out of sight, in storage, they are now offering their magnificent collection back into the market for art lovers and collectors of Australian Art to enjoy. Artmarketspace is thrilled to be able to make these works available to the market.

For a closer look at the first release of the works they are offering, including video for close up and detail, head to the Peter Churcher artworks in The Peter and Andrea Hylands Collection.

  Artwork: Peter Churcher, Regarding Picasso
  Artwork: Peter Churcher,        Head in a Box