Keith Looby has a reputation for pissing off nearly every Australian art critic.
When you hear Keith Looby talk in person you will hear a soft-spoken artist with a deep resentment towards an ‘industry’ that just as easily celebrated him as it disposed of him.
Looby – which premieres as part of the 2019 Melbourne Documentary Festival – details the tumultuous career of the Archibald Prize Winner who wanted to be part of the arts conversation just as much as he tried to distance himself away from it.
Looby’s career is explored in a series of interviews detailing his perception among curators, critics and fellow artists. While critics of Looby recognise his remarkable ability to infuse politics into his artwork, his cantankerous antics left him ostracised from the Australian art scene.
Director Iain Knight does not attempt to paint Looby as a saint and affirms Looby’s reputation as being difficult through a multitude of sources. Looby would be the person talking too loudly on the train and speaking with his mouth full of food. Knight faces an uphill battle having the audience rally behind his subject but succeeds in separating the controversial artist from his art by recognising the social importance of his work against the backdrop of a pretentious industry hellbent on silencing him.
From Looby learning about the power of illustration when defiant at school, to his unpopular pursuit of the Archibald, the artist has always been under constant scrutiny by critics. His resentment at the culture-of-criticism is explored with a satirical gaze on an almost mafia-esque industry that would as soon dispose of its detractors as it would accept a non-conformist.
This disparagement for critique – whether hurt feelings or not – does not deter from Looby’s refusal to remain silent against a surveillant power. This ideology seeps through not only Looby’s personal life but also in the political nature of his artwork. The effects of Looby’s professional expulsion builds the emotional core of the film, with the artist now approaching the reality that most of his artwork will more likely be held in storage than presented in a gallery.
Radical? Maybe. Difficult? Most likely.
Keith Looby’s rejection from the art scene provides a fascinating exploration on art and critic-culture told through the eyes of an artist in constant disagreement with the establishment.