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Larter, Richard - 1978.6

Richard Larter

Twisted Dispensable Trifle 1977
perma and vynol paint, AW2 crystals on calcite ground
182 x 124.5 cm
Purchased 1978

I was first introduced to the work of Richard Larter through the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, in Canberra, where the artist spent most of his final years. His paintings and collages had always felt to me as though they were produced in a frenzy, like passive aggressive love letters to the viewer, constructed from mass-media images, fleshy pin-ups and under the seduction of paint.

Larter was born in England in 1929 and moved, with his wife and young family, to Australia in 1962. His early influences ranged from Claude Monet’s waterlily paintings, the work of Austrian artists Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt to the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. In London, Larter saw British pop art and his work began to reflect the influence of youth culture, rock and roll music and the sexual liberation of the late 1950s and ’60s. His paintings of this period were stark and shaky, often made using a syringe filled with paint to trace the contours of the body, capturing the tension between artist and model with a draughtsman’s sensibility. As he developed his style the paintings became coy, teasing and quick, whereas the later works for which Larter became best known were busy, a riot of colour and always provocative, both sexually and politically.

In his painting Twisted Dispensable Trifle, produced the same year as Elvis died and punk rock broke, Larter transports us down his bubbling stream of consciousness, fizzing with multi-coloured dots and carefully rendered comic-strip portraits, along a loose autobiographical narrative. While the iconic face of Colonel Sanders stares blankly at us, the 1920s flapper in the top left looks on, doe-eyed and painted in creamy yellows and sombre greys, and a preoccupied Sigmund Freud carefully inspects a document, finger cocked mid-fold. Around the border are images of women from comic strips and photographs, and the artist’s wife, Pat, whose mocking glamour pose suggests an intimate relationship with her viewer, her expression both comic and banal. Larter often used images of women to represent the positive forces in the world set against the politics of war. He explained: ‘By depicting evil men (such as Malcolm Fraser, John Kerr and Hitler) alongside whores, pin-ups and raving beauties (who often seemed to be “enjoying” fellatio), I attempted to show what Hannah Arendt described as “the banality of evil”’.

In Twisted Dispensable Trifle Larter centralises the cropped female buttocks and legs of contestants in what might be a beauty pageant or something more questionable, as though pointing to the loss of identity under the scrutiny of the male gaze, to becoming a number, becoming flesh. Larter wants us to feel the heat of bright corporate lights like the contestants, the screams of political casualties, hear the gasp of stolen pleasure but to also be aware that demons lurk in the shadows and that our freedoms should not be taken for granted.

Geoff Newton is the director of Neon Parc, Melbourne.