RICHARD LARTER 1929-2014
A SHORT STORY
Some time ago in Adelaide, perhaps twenty years, I was invited select a work from the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia for a program of lunch-time talks. I selected a work by Richard Larter, Mode 4 (1978). This imposing painting comprised four repeated images of a very ordinary woman in stockings and suspenders, her blouse raised to reveal her average bosom while her ample posterior dominated the frame. Larter had added, as was his way, vibrant colour and a complex explosion of what one might call unbridled post psychedelic design. It was a provocative work that the conservative midday crowd at AGSA found tasteless, if not disturbing, and for this I was grateful. The questions and ensuing discussion made for a very satisfying lunch.
I knew little about Larter at the time, only that I responded enthusiastically to the uncompromising raw sexuality that this work seemed to convey. Unfortunately in those pre-internet days there was virtually no information to be found about Mode 4 and thus a fearless friend and visual arts lecturer (Pamela Zeplin) suggested that I phone Larter with a view to finding everything I needed to know directly from the horses mouth. Thoroughly daunted by this prospect, I plucked up the courage to speak with the artist. My out of the blue call was met with the utmost generosity as he told me that the image source was the classified section of a European sex magazine where one could publish suggestive photos to advertise one’s charms. Larter celebrated this precursor of internet-dating without fear or shame. The conversation continued for hours as Larter told me about what seemed like all of his works to date, providing useful contextual information such as who was doing what and who in Sydney during the 1960s. In a very short time I became an authority on Mode 4.
This was a seminal conversation with far greater implications than I realized at the time. Worth every cent of the enormous phone bill that followed. Again I witnessed Larter’s generosity, his lust for life, beauty and art, when he spoke at the National Gallery of Australia several days after the opening of Richard Larter: A Retrospective curated by Deborah Hart (2008). Larter was one of the few artists who could reveal the details of his technique in a way that has the audience crying with laughter. Genuinely eccentric, he was a great communicator with an ability to blend information with entertainment. Little wonder that Larter’s evocative and provocative paintings are recognized today as part of the very fabric of contemporary Australian art. With no beg-your-pardons he brought us sex, politics, popular culture and art with humour, style, skill and irreverence. To everything he added colour, and then more colour. I am sure that anyone who encountered Richard Larter would agree that every engagement, on the phone, in person or on gallery walls, was utterly unforgettable.