1937 – 2017
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.