NotesIn an interview with Powerhouse curator, Grace Cochrane in 1988, Travis said his passion for colour was ignited at Balgowlah Primary School in the 1930s, where his teacher, modernist artist Rah Fizelle, painted all the desks in primary colours. However, rather than following his passion for visual design when he first left school, Travis pursued his love of music and studied at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, planning to become a composer and music teacher. Finding it difficult to support himself as a musician, Travis took a job at Farmer's Department Store, initially selling textiles and later becoming a buyer of children's clothes. In 1955, he went into partnership in a clothing business catering to teenage girls. Setting up in an old butcher's shop in Balmain, according to Travis, his label 'Rumpus' was the first in Australia to specifically target teenage girls. Moving away from teenagers being dressed like their mother's, Travis introduced 'mix and match' tops and bottoms in bright primary colours and playful themes. These Rumpus samples were in Peter Travis' possession until the end of his life.
From 1956-58, Travis studied part-time at the National Art School with the highly regarded teacher Phyllis Shillito. Initially, he focussed on industrial design and took the opportunity to work at Phillips Radio Electronics where he designed radios and televisions between 1956 and 1959. He then moved to the Speedo knitwear company, where he worked from 1960-61, with the brief to invigorate Speedo's stodgy menswear lines with Hawaiian-inspired swim and leisurewear ranges for the Australian market. Travis had great success at Speedo, not only reinvigorating the designs, but using new marketing strategies to target specific audiences. In spite of his success, he left to study sculpture fulltime at the National Art School, later transferring to ceramics, where he became the first graduate in the new certificate course in that medium. His work in ceramics was notable for the combination of many small handbuilt or coiled components, or sliced segments of thrown forms cast in a mould. Peter's ceramic works were included in many international and Australian exhibitions from the 1960s onwards. He received a gold medal at the Faenza international competition for contemporary ceramic art in Italy in 1973, and also in that year became a member of the International Academy of Ceramics.
In the late 1960s, Peter began to make colourful kites, which he referred to as aerial sculptures. These featured in many aerial performances such as Australia Day celebrations, Sydney Festivals and events at Bondi Beach, which developed into the Festival of the Winds. He contributed to many international kite workshops, conferences and 'sky performances'. In 1990, he was honoured by being elected to the Hall of Fame in the World Kite Museum in Washington State. In the early 1980s, architects were commissioning him to create colourful aerial sculptures suspended on metal frames to decorate large interior voids. Such sculptures, including four ten story hangings for the Merlin Hotel in Perth and thirty five large works celebrating the completion of St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, were the main focus of his work into the 2000s.
Travis also embraced new technology, receiving grants to study digital design and colour theory overseas. His skill in colour design was acknowledged in the 1980s when he was engaged to advise the architects of new Parliament House, Canberra on the use of colour in the building. He is responsible for the muted reds and greens of the Senate and the House of Representatives which he adapted from the traditional red and green of Westminster to shades representing Australian foliage and earth.
Additionally, Travis was a highly respected teacher whose career spanned over forty years in institutions such as Phyllis Shillito's Design School, the acclaimed Mary White School of Art, the Arts Council of New South Wales, the National Art School and the UNSW School of Art and Design.
Travis' contributions to so many fields of design led to him being made a member of the Order of Australia AM in 2008.
Reference: Grace Cochrane's speech at the Memorial Service for Peter Travis on 22nd February, 2017 at UNSW Art and Design Paddington Campus.