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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Robert Rooney, self portrait December 1978

1978 (printed 2012)
Robert Rooney

inkjet print on paper (sheet: 24.0 cm x 35.2 cm, image: 20.0 cm x 30.5 cm)

Robert Rooney (1937-2017), painter, conceptual artist and photographer, studied at Swinburne Technical college from 1954 to 1957. Between 1961 and 1966 he ‘slowly and systematically eliminated the figure’ from his paintings. In between his Slippery seal (1967) and Canine capers (1969) series, in which he used brightly coloured cut-outs on the back of Kellogg’s boxes as stencils, he was represented in The Field. Soon after he made his Superknits series, hard-edged abstractions, ‘absurdly’ based on knitting patterns. He studied at the Phillip Institute from 1972 to 1973; by 1978, his work was the subject of survey exhibitions at the NGV and the Art Gallery of New South Wales; with hindsight, it has become clear that although Rooney’s work ‘employs the visual vocabulary of colour-field painting, it is in fact closer in intent to pop and conceptual art’. From 1980 to 1982 he was art critic for the Age; for the next eighteen years he held the same position at the Australian. Rooney exhibited at Pinocotheca and then Tolarno Gallery between 1960 and 2006. The Monash Univeristy Museum of Art retrospective From the Homefront: Robert Rooney Works 1953-88, held in 1990, was accompanied by a catalogue essay by Philip Brophy. Since then, Rooney’s hand-painted acrylic pictures have been based on illustrations in little-known children’s books or concerned with artworks made by children themselves, though he explains that it is not his aim to draw or paint like a child; rather, his interest is in ‘modern Art (or Modernism) and childhood, or, if you like, the early childhood of Modernism.’ His recent exhibitions at Tolarno include Balletomania (2005) and Le Rire. In 2010-2011 the National Gallery of Victoria presented Endless Present: Robert Rooney and Conceptual Art, featuring Rooney’s photographs in the context of his comprehensive collection of Australian and international conceptual art, much of it gifted to the NGV.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2012
© Estate of Robert Rooney

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Robert Rooney (age 41 in 1978)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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