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Year: 2019, 80 mins
Code: MA-Looby

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Looby addresses the question of what it is to be an artist in Australia.

Keith Looby has relentlessly pursued a life in art across seven decades.  It has cost him almost everything. He has won many major art prizes and is in the collections of every major gallery in Australia and many internationally, including MOMA in New York. 

A troubling addiction to speaking his mind has left him with a string of failed business relationships, marriages and friendships. 

The film looks at Looby’s art in the context of what was happening around him through his career - socially, politically and personally. 

Nudged into coherence by the film-makers, assessed by dealers, curators, critics and fellow artists, Looby is a chance to look at an artist who had his moment in the sun, and ask whether he should have another.   



Keith Looby – Australian artist who won the Archibald Prize in 1984 with a portrait of Max Gillies, won the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1973, the Sulman Prize in 1974, was Canberra Artist of the Year in 1992 and has won numerous other awards. Exhibits at Bruce Heiser Gallery, Brisbane, and in recent years also with Damien Minton Gallery, Sydney, and Solander Gallery, Canberra.

Keith Looby was born in Sydney, New South Wales in 1940, and attended the National Art School, Sydney between 1955 and 1959. In 1960 he sailed for Naples, Italy and over the next seven years travelled throughout the Continent and the United Kingdom visiting galleries and museums while continuing to paint. Throughout the mid-1960s Looby travelled between London and Italy and in 1964 held his first solo exhibition at the Carpini Gallery, Rome. A year later he held a second exhibition in Italy – with Viotto Gallery in Turin.


At the suggestion and with the assistance of Jeffrey Smart, Looby returned to Australia in 1967 to show with Macquarie Galleries, Sydney. Since then he has exhibited widely throughout the country including Argus Gallery, Melbourne (1968); The Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane (1969, 1971); Von Bertouch, Newcastle (1970, 1975, 2002); Macquarie Galleries, Sydney (1970, 1974) and Canberra (1975); Powell Street Gallery, Melbourne (1970); John Gild Gallery, Perth (1972); Abraxis Gallery, Canberra (1976);   Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney (1983, 1984); Praxis Art Gallery, Perth (1986); Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane (1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987) and Sydney (1986, 1988, 1989, 1992,1996,1998); the Australia Centre, Manila, Philippines (1995); Dickerson Gallery, Melbourne (2001); Bond University Art Gallery, Queensland (2003); Hardware Gallery, Sydney (2002, 2006); Heiser Gallery, Brisbane (2005, 2008); Damien Minton Gallery, Sydney (2010) with Martin Sharp and Bruce Petty, Solander Gallery, Canberra (2012).


Awards and prizes won by Keith Looby include the Archibald Prize (1984); Dalby Art Prize (1978); Mornington Peninsula Drawing Prize (1976); Swan Hill Pioneer Art Prize and the Latrobe Valley Purchase Prize (1975); Sulman Prize (1974); Blake Prize For Religious Art (1973); Georges Invitation Art Awards (1971,1973), and the D’Arcy Morris Memorial Prize (1969, 1970, 1972). In 1981 Looby received an Australia Council New York studio residency, whilst in 1973 – 1974 he was artist in residence at the Australian National University. In 1992 Looby was named Canberra Artist of the Year.


Collections that hold Looby’s work include the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, New York, QUT Art Museum, Geelong Art Gallery, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Newcastle Region Art Gallery, and Swan Hill Regional Gallery.

Keith Looby lives with his partner April Pressler on Sydney’s lower north shore, where he paints seven days a week.

"Acclaimed and controversial Australian artist Keith Looby is the subject of this fascinating documentary from directors Iain Knight and Nick Garner. 

For those outside or adjacent to the Australian art scene, the Sydney-born Looby is probably best known for winning the Archibald Prize in 1984 for his portrait of satirist Max Gillies in character as then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Within the scene, however, he’s infamous for being an outspoken and pugnacious fellow who has alienated partners, friends, and family, as well as the critical establishment at large.

Which makes him a ripe target for biography. Knight and Garner do an excellent job of locating Looby in his time and place – a fiercely intelligent working class kid who came to prominence largely in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, documenting directly and by allusion the tumultuous changes wrought on Australian society in the time, and his own discomfort with the privileged establishment he often butted heads with.

That establishment also includes the left wing intellectual avant garde known as the Sydney Push, a subject worthy of its own documentary treatment. Looby is remarkable in his ability to pick a fight with pretty much anyone who crossed his field of view.

And for his art, of course. We get insight into what drove Looby to paint controversial portrait subjects and how these choices effectively shut him out of Archibald consideration for years, and also the furore surrounding his numerous works on the horrors of colonialization wrought upon Indigenous Australians.  

It’s a fascinating film, especially in an era of increasingly straitened and conservative artistic standards. Looby is a timely reminder of both the value of questioning the status quo, and the price that doing so often extracts."  Travis Johnson, Cinema Australia

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