© Cleared / image missing


Sydney, New South Wales, Australia born 1940

  • Europe, UK 1960-67
  • PNG, USA 1981
  • Philippines 1994-95

Resurrection 1964 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil Support: canvas

Dimensions: 263.7 h x 391.7 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of James Fairfax AO 2000
Accession No: NGA 2000.343
Image rights: © Keith Looby

Resurrection is the second in a sequence of canvases from Looby’s years in Italy (1960–64) that play on religious, personal and artistic concerns. Resurrection is a young artist’s work, its mural scale demanding stamina and ambition to incorporate the universe of ideas and visual sources from the early Renaissance and Byzantine era. Though not devotional, and indeed doctrinally naïve, 24 year-old Looby had been excited by Pope John XXIII’s initiation of Christian–Marxist dialogues.

The painting allowed for hope, even if it displayed the faith of a Doubting Thomas. The momento mori in the top right-hand corner shows the skull of the ape, a Darwinian more than a Christian comment. Perhaps the key is the figure on the left who carries a candle as if seeking the truth, but who has turned his back to the scene.

As in frescos and icons, the structure involves a hierarchy of power, with cardinals on the top and holy clowns along the bottom. The crucified and resurrected Christs merge in a central double-headed, mask-like image, which is tied to the Pieta beneath. Vertical lines of limbs and faces are set against horizontal and diagonal sticks to establish the design, in which sculptural figuration and repetitive physiognomies blend into a cartooning style peculiar to Looby. The crowded feel is relieved by the play of light and colour.

As Jeffrey Smart wrote at the time, Resurrection’s place as an Australian masterpiece comes from Looby’s control of its contraries, from the achievement of stillness despite its busyness.

Humphrey McQueen 2002.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002