Keith Looby Dichotomy
27 Aug - 9 Oct 2022
Spud Lane Studios & Gallery Presents:
KEITH LOOBY — Dichotomy
A rare exhibition of the art of Keith Looby, opened by art critic John McDonald.
Keith Looby’s history is well documented. Born in Newtown, Sydney in 1940; Looby entered National Art School at the age of 15, and upon graduation; set sail for Italy in what was to become an seven-year long sojourn in Europe. At the suggestion of Jeffrey Smart, Australia’s Macquarie Galleries took an interest in the promising young artist, and Looby returned from London to Sydney in 1967 and went on to win a multitude of major prizes including the Archibald, Sulman and Blake art prizes. Looby continued a practice he had started earlier in Europe: to paint by day and draw by night, thus firmly entrenching the separation in his mind between painting and drawing.
The curation for Dichotomy interprets a statement made by Looby: “When I draw, I draw as a Protestant. When I paint, I paint as a Catholic. (Although I see myself as an atheist.)” and presents his work through this bifocal lens.
In considering the above statement, it helps to understand that for Looby, conflicting religious/political ideas were present from a young age, as his mother was a practising Catholic and his father was a Communist in his political ideology.
As Keith explained, his drawings generally follow a narrative knowing what idea he wants to convey. While his paintings, although starting out with a notion, primarily emerge out of the slurry of paint on the canvas as he loses himself in the process. “My politics are in my drawings but never in my paintings” quotes Looby in Humphrey McQueen's Suburbs of the Sacred, a wonderful inquiry of what informs the canons of Australian culture with Looby as the central protagonist.
One can assume that as a Catholic, Looby surrenders himself, with a sense of faith, to the process of painting. The notion of the subject in his painting remains a notion without a message; while as a Protestant, Looby is following a line of enquiry, as the lines literally unfold to deliver his message. In that way, the process involved in his drawing and painting seem to merge, but the purpose and outcome are different.
While both Protestant and Catholic share Christian views; Catholics, with a righteous God, surrender their faith to a higher order set by the Holy Father; while the Protestants, formed as a protest against the Pope’s rule, instead sought a more personal relationship with God and a way of redressing social grievances bought about by the Catholic Church. As a Protestant Looby was intransigent in his way of solving social grievances and like Luther (the seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation), to oppose was Looby’s joy, but unlike Luther, Looby remained secular.
The series of etchings for this exhibition form part of a narrative derived from Looby’s History of Australia — which examines the continent before the European conquest — and Black and White Australia — on the subsequent horrors of Colonisation. Looby was exploring not so much the details of history, but how to evaluate them and in a sense making them more powerful in a political way. It goes to say that these works are as relevant now, as they were when the Australian referendum of 1967 was a hot topic, and are ripe for re-examination.
The selection of paintings for this exhibition represent Looby’s acheivement in both landscape and the figurative and the relationship between them and himself. There is no sense of the political, instead Looby’s approach encapsulates what is intended when he refers to his statement “When I paint, I paint as a Catholic.”
The Tasmanian Trees represented in this exhibition are a recurring motif that first appeared in the History of the World series while in Europe, then in the three series about Australia as the angophora. At the end of 1984 Looby moved to the east coast of Tasmania. “For landscape to succeed for me I would have to be living where the landscape overwhelmed other interests.” The landscapes of Tasmania, to quote Looby “like any other image of mine, must grow from an obsession with and in the local life I lead.” Also included in this exhibition is The Island, 1987, an evocation of an island where Looby is seen as coming closest to being abstract.
The figurative and the landscape are drawn together from his personal tangles of art and life. Looby paints with the notion of a personal relationship to both, drawn on memory. Cliffhanger is loosely a self-portrait and stems from Looby’s younger days spent climbing the cliffs of Bondi. What once started out as a notion, once again ends up being taken over by the process, as this is not a young man draped between the cliffs, but an older version. Beach Minimalist may have started out as the notion of Looby and his partner April Pressler on the beach recalling their time living in Mosman, but only remains as a notion as he surrenders himself to the process. Looby claims that he has no say in the outcome of these paintings: The painting itself tells him when it is finished.
Looby’s contrasting approach to drawing and painting within this exhibition seeks to represent the Dichotomy in his practice.
— Ric Abel, August 22
Dichotomy features a selection of paintings and etchings from Looby's personal collection, curated by Ric Abel. The show was opened by notable art critic John McDonald, of the Sydney Morning Herald, on Saturday 27 August and will run until 9 October 2022.
Saturday 27 August – Sunday 9 October 2022
Spud Lane Studios, U1/74-76 Hoddle Street, Robertson NSW 2577
Friday to Monday, 10am–4pm
DOWNLOAD THE CATALOGUE
Saturday 27 August, 2pm
With an opening address by notable art critic John McDonald.
DOCUMENTARY // Q&A:
Wednesday 24 August, 6.30pm
Empire Cinemas, Bowral
LOOBY documentary screening followed by a Q&A with Humphrey McQueen and Keith Looby.