Keith Looby is an esteemed Australian artist. Born to Irish Catholic immigrants and a dedicated socialist, he experienced the art world as an outsider. Despite this however, he was a true artist – a teenage prodigy turned winner of the Archibald, Sulman and Blake prizes.
Looby’s work is inflected by his travels across Europe. In 1960 he sailed for Naples Italy and over the next seven years journeyed throughout the continent and the United Kingdom. Here, he became intimately acquainted with theological and political themes, namely Catholicism and Marxism. Back in Australia, he applied his shrewd iconoclastic eye to the story of Australia and its historic mistreatment of First Nations peoples. Images of bushrangers, convicts and colonisation then gave way to something more nebulous: the beginning and end of time. Looby’s protoplasmic universes are sublime invocations of the grotesque. They are not fixed nor resolved, perhaps like the artist himself.
An iconoclast and outsider, Looby’s relationship with the art world is ambivalent; and yet he remains one of the country’s most formidable artists. He is represented in all public collections, was awarded Canberra Artist of Year in 1992 and is the subject of a 2020 feature documentary, Looby.