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image icon 'Dead Goebbels he say', 1971

'Dead Goebbels he say', 1971
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an oil painting made in 1971 by Richard Larter (1929-). Measuring 123.5 cm x 185.0 cm, the work consists of a number of faces and figures that have been appropriated from newspapers and magazines and arranged informally on a flat surface. One of the images of the men (upper right) wears a military cap and is gesticulating angrily, while the other (lower left) has his eyes and mouth wide open as if in surprise. The image at lower right is that of a woman posing topless, while the other (upper left) is in the style of a character from a mid-20th-century romance comic book. Sandwiched between the images of the men and women is a collage of words in different type styles and the back view image of a priest, wearing a traditional chasuble over army fatigues, who appears to be saying mass for a group of kneeling soldiers.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work by Richard Larter, who is critically regarded as one of Australia's most significant painters - Larter emigrated to Australia from the UK in 1962; during his formative development as an art student and artist in the UK, Larter was attracted to Pop Art, particularly forms of this art movement that incorporated political statements and engagement with social issues; in the 1960s and 1970s much of his imagery was derived from European magazines that offered a variety of images and graphic styles not commonly found in Australian publications at the time; Larter has continued to experiment with techniques and styles across his working life; in the 1950s and 1960s he used hypodermic syringes filled with paint to create images constructed from rhythmic swirling lines; later works used dots to imitate inexpensive colour magazine reproductions, and horizontal stripes reminiscent of those on television sets; in the 1980s he used paint rollers to create more abstract images
  • uses a collage style of composition characteristic of the artist's work of the early 1970s - his use of flat areas of light and dark colours with very little figurative detail mimics the 'tonal drop-out' style of mass-produced silk-screened images based on photographs; many paintings around this time consisted of appropriated images that had been transferred and 'blown up' in size onto canvas using bright and often garish colour combinations
  • uses images taken from the media and popular culture - the figure in the upper right is Paul Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister; the topless woman at lower right is Christine Keeler, whose affair in 1963 with the British minister of war, John Profumo, caused a political scandal and the minister's resignation; the woman in the upper left has been taken from a 'true romance' comic book, and the male portrait at lower left is of a US star of vaudeville theatre, Al Jolson (1886-1950); the priest is an army chaplain saying mass, possibly during the Vietnam War; the texts have come from various sources including pornographic magazines and German newspapers
  • is making a political statement - Larter saw a close connection between war and sexual pornography; in the 'Profumo Affair' this connection is obvious, but the association of Nazi propaganda and Christianity through a common context of war is an example of the artist's use of shock tactics; Al Jolson was a white US entertainer who wore 'blackface' make-up and white gloves to resemble a black African American performer, in Larter's view sustaining a racial stereotype; the connection between this stereotyping through popular culture (as seen in movies) and that of governments (such as the Nazis), is clearly part of this painting's message; the artist once said that 'By depicting evil men and their cronies alongside whores, pin-ups and raving beauties' he was attempting to say something about what has been described as 'the banality of evil'
  • references a significant period of political activism within contemporary Australian art that occurred in the later 1960s and the 1970s - this activism was directly linked to public opposition to Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War (1965-73).