Born UK 1929
arrived Australia 1962, died 2014
Spring blossoms, 1991
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
180.0 x 127.0 cm
inscribed lower right: RL / 14.10.91; on reverse: RICHAR LARTER / “SPRING BLOSSOMS” / 14th October 1991
Richard Larter - Wisteria and Melbourne and Sydney at Night, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 5 - 23 May 1992, catalogue no. 13.
An exhibition at two venues to celebrate Richard Larter’s seventieth birthday, Legge Gallery and Watters Gallery, Sydney, 4 – 22 May 1999, catalogue no.51.
Death under the ice, 1998
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101.0 x 82.0 cm
inscribed on reverse: RICHARD LARTER / 1st AUG. 98 / “DEATH UNDER THE ICE”
Richard Larter: New work, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 21 October-7 November, 1998, catalogue no.16
In 1982 Pat and Richard ‘Dick’ Larter moved to Yass, New South Wales, a small country town west of Goulburn and north of Canberra. Thirty years before they had arrived in Sydney from the London suburb of Hornchurch. In London, ‘Larter’s work came of age in the climate of British pop art, with its enthusiasm for low-life visual culture, …’, Deborah Clark, Richard Later: now we are seventy, Watters Gallery, May 1999. From his first Australian exhibition at Watters Gallery in 1965 Larter was able to shock his more conservative Australian audience. Keeping-up with his interest in both figurative and abstract art which seemed to contradict each other, his devotion to film and jazz as a source of inspiration for his art, and his active political mind interested in everything he saw and read, and which could inspire a painting, was often confounding for even adventurous viewers. It was certainly never easy art as it wove together images, media, and pattern.
After years of paintings which we knew were inspired by music and film, and all manner of other things, – the ostensibly abstract work, and those derived from his own films and polaroids of women – the figurative work, which frequently included large areas of pattern and abstraction, a shift happened in the 1980s. Undoubtedly the move to Yass reinforced this change.
The house in Yass had a garden and was a contrast to the shack on six and a half acres of native scrub in Luddenham which is past Penrith west of Sydney. Surrounded by properties devoted to sheep and cattle grazing the town featured old plantings of European trees along the river and main roads, and European and Asian plants thrived in both public and private gardens. Here were new subjects for Larter and he quickly assimilated them into his painting. In her essay, The painter’s eye, for the retrospective exhibition Richard Larter at the National Gallery of Australia in 2008, Joanna Mendelssohn observed of these paintings, ‘Larter responded to this new environment by painting some of the most lyrically beautiful landscapes of 20th century Australian art. The mystery is surely why these were ever described as ‘abstract’, as they are so clearly about land and sky, gardens, trees and moods of nature. The failure to acknowledge that these paintings are landscapes may be caused by the artist’s continuing practice of painting pure abstracts, but even these are influenced by place, emotion, music and memory. They are also influenced by Larter’s layers of knowledge of the great European traditions of art and in particular the work of those artists whose passion was for colour….’.
Paintings such as Spring blossoms, obviously have a subject from nature and are ravishing in their effect. A lighter palette, more gentle, perhaps tentative, brushwork, and a greater sense of depth, captures the first buds of spring, pale colours seen through a misty light. You can sense the breeze that shakes the blossoms. The surface of the painting scintillates. In Spring blossoms you sense intensely the artist’s enjoyment of the world around him.
Larter’s work is not always ‘pretty’. Employing all his skill in creating a surface, a beautiful image, with delicate brushstrokes, in Death under the ice, what is obviously an observation of the natural world has a title which gives the painting a slightly sinister quality. However, the painting is exceptionally beautiful. It shows Larter at the height of his power as a painter, bringing together figurative imagery, although only alluded to, and the beauty of abstraction. It all seems balanced. The viewer can enjoy the delicate colours, the masterly handling of paint, the effect of objects caught, seen through a sheet of ice. It does not matter that we have no explanation of the subject, or cannot determine what is happening. The beauty of the painting, its abstraction, is what we admire. It is the work of a painter fully conversant with the great subject of twentieth century art, abstraction, and his own delight in the pleasure of painting. The viewer has a sense of the pure joy of capturing in paint that which is ephemeral, a skill in which Richard Larter excelled.
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