Keith Looby's first solo exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.
Exhibition Dates: 24 March – 9 April 1983
This series of works is the latest section of Looby's Personal History, which follows on earlier series like White History of Australia, the Black History, and the History of the World. It is the most self-revealing of any set of Looby works.
The etchings and paintings in effect comprise a biography of the artist as an artist, depicting the influences, artistic, cultural and intellectual which impinged on him and determined his development. Contained in the series are continual back references to the style of his earlier paintings, which sometimes amount to a parody of his development.
Thus the series begins with the Australian art scene of Looby's youth, in the mid-fifties, dominated by foreign influences and the Camp scene of the Sydney artworld. This and the Sydney Push (loosely associated with the Sydney Libertarians who derived from the influence of John Anderson and "permanent protest" anarchism), were his social milieu. The Royal George Hotel, the home of the Push in the period 1959-63, was seen by Looby as both a refuge and a jail.
He broke out from the jail of the Sydney artworld and the Push to travel in Europe. The next group of paintings depicts the impact of Italian art, his aesthetic-sexual response to it, travels in France and Ireland, and particularly the strong impact of his study of Breughel and Bosch. Looby came to rest in Turin, where there was a group of expatriate Australians forming virtually a second family for him, and there and later in Rome was strongly influenced by a form of social realism, as well as by religious art.
Thence he went to England, a period of isolation and alienation in the foreignness of London, and returned to Australia in 1967. Here he took refuge in the bush with the wife he found on the ship home; they lived for some years at Boongarrie, an isolated house in the middle of the bush near Kurrajong. Here he was strongly influenced by aboriginal history (an aboriginal nuclear family, and his own, are two subjects), and near the house was the tree which still recurs in his work.
The next stage was Canberra, where Looby became artist-in-residence at the Australian National University. It was here he began to develop an element of abstraction, as typified in his "stuffed and split" series of paintings. The final group relates to his return to Sydney, and the impact of the modern artworld and the political scene in Australia.The whole series represents a fascinating and unusual biography for an artist, in that rather than resorting to the unsatisfactory (for a visual artist) medium of prose, the artist has told his story in terms of his own art. There is a chapter of biography in every frame; as Wittgenstein said: "What can be shown cannot be said".
P. P. McGuinness
8 March 1983