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, focussed through Bosch and the elder Breughel. Though not devotional, and indeed doctrinally naïve, the twenty-four 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 rather 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 peculiar to Looby. The crowded feel is relieved by the play of light and colour.

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