As a deeply intuitive artist, David Larwill has drawn on an array of cultural influences including Indigenous art, environmental issues and politics with the style of international artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso influencing his form. His spontaneity in execution and the fleeting qualities of form and movement were highly praised over the course of his career, making him one of the most recognisable Australian artists.
The iconic imagery that Larwill is most known had not fully formed until after visiting New York for the first time in 1992. He found himself completely mesmerised by the volume of colourful tags and graffiti in the subways and on the streets, much like that of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring who were highly active during this period. Absorbing what he could from the art galleries the city had to offer, it was Picasso’s mask-like faces and strong physiques that Larwill was fascinated by and soon after his works too began to resemble African sculpture, masks and tribal figures. Embracing his fast-paced technique, Larwill used bold outlines to create his
abstract figures alongside surface writings and patterns, creating an explosion of vibrations and movement on the canvas that was to follow him throughout his career.
Games 1998, shows the accomplished technique and a deep rendering of influences that go back to this earlier period in Larwill’s practice. Larwill explores the qualities of colour and layering while using dark, silhouetted forms heavily contrasted over a bare white background. Larwill continues to explore the influential impact Picasso made on his work by working with raw primitivist themes, seen in the shield-like heads and the readied stances of each figure in this work. His subjects pose playfully, bouncing across the canvas while his use of pattern takes each figure into a different variation of movement. The naïve patterns floating around each figure are reminiscent of the technique used by Basquiat to emphasize movement and inject a playful child-like energy to the work.
Indeed, it is the sheer breadth of Larwill’s intellectual curiosity as a painter which provided his art with so much of its variety and impact giving Larwill a truly international perspective. Larwill was able to maintain a consistent output right up until his death in 2011, earning wide respect for his contribution to the art community and as one of the founding members of the Melbourne-born Roar School studios, lending himself to become one of Australia’s most unique artists.
LUCY FOSTER / Art Specialist
Banner Image (detail): DAVID LARWILL (1956-2011) Games 1998, oil on linen, diptych, 152.5 x 244cm, © Estate of David Larwill/Copyright Agency 2022 | $45,000-55,000