One of Australia’s great artists died in Canberra last Friday. In a fabulous career spanning nearly 70 years, Richard Larter and his wife Pat, were early members of the Sydney Push movement in the 1950s and his philosophies on life that were formulating then were still in evidence in his art work of later years. He painted nude and sexually engaging portraits of a wide range of women (mostly his wife and peep show workers), while raging against the many ills in society through his work. He hated censorship of all sorts but was most outraged by the banning and restricting of sexual and political material – which he experienced on more than one occasion himself.
There are plenty of links to Richard’s artistic genius and to the amazing volume of work that he left behind, so I won’t try and play the art critic here. What I do want to say is that he was a life member of the Eros Association and appreciated the work that a sex industry association does and the effects that it has on the freedoms of mainstream artists.
In the mid 1990s when Eros was still in its initial stages I remember getting a call from Richard saying that he had made a series of black and white art films using kitchen themes and appliances and that he was trying to donate them to the National Film and Sound Archive for posterity. This was only a few years after Pat, his wife, muse and artistic collaborator, had passed away and I think he could see that technology was moving very quickly and the video cassettes that they had recorded on, may soon be obsolete.
Some of the films, with exotic names like ‘Trixie’s Walking Fingers’, were sexually explicit and the poor old National Film and Sound Archive rejected them telling Richard they were pornographic. He was outraged and asked if Eros could help him to have them properly archived as works of art. Of course, under the Classification Act they easily qualified for an exemption from the normal rules of polite society because of their artistic and even historic nature. The Classification Act is harder to understand than an obscure Swahili dialect and even academics and arts bureaucrats find it hard to see where the line is drawn for the various classifications. I wrote a short submission on Richard’s behalf and forwarded the relevant parts of the Act to the NFSA and within a few days they felt confident enough to accept them. Richard was grateful for the help and started supporting our anti-censorship campaigns and became a good friend. He later pulled all his works from the NFSA and lodged some of them with the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).
On 18.9.01 he wrote to me with a copy of a submission that he had penned to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC and now the Australian Classification Board). The letter was hilarious but full of venom and hate for official government censorship.
Herewith copy of my short submission to OFLC with longer CV attached so the ignorant whatnots at least know who I am. These government functionaries deserve about as much respect as we have for Adolph Eichmann and his ilk. They really enjoy the little bit of power they have. You should persuade someone like Bob Brown to introduce a Bill cancelling their pensions because of their anti-humanistic activities. Yhe Bill of course would never get passed but at least they would know how much we all loathe them. I also enclose copies of letters I got from Dave Rugendyke (a conservative ACT politician) and Dr Kennedy(NGA head) regarding the proposed Adult Entertainment Bill – another fiasco. Still we must keep on trying.
His submission would have been the elephant in the room when the Attorney General’s advisors sat down to go through them. As with most elephants in most rooms, his comments were overlooked – mostly in favour of the local priest or the local women’s auxiliary group. And yet this submission stands as one of the great statements on censorship by an Australian artist. He saw the nub of the problem and attacked it without worrying about the nuances in the debate. *(Submission attached).
Richard was never shy about coming forward on political matters and he hated politicians who could only see life through an economic framework. His writings about the neo conservatives of his day were driven by the same passion that inspired his incredible art. In a letter dated 9.10.08 he wanted me to know where all his films had finally been lodged and where people could read his criticisms of the government censorship on his work*.
The Larter Manifesto ran thus:
“The current recession is caused by the same ultra right wing Christian forces which brought Christian fascist economics forward with Milton Friedman – corporatist tactics using politicians of the types like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. They made greed seem natural along with the diminution of honesty and probity that the new global corporatist capitalism sponsors. This has led to dishonest manipulation of the stock market so that ‘blue chip’ has become a meaningless term and blatant rorting and gambling has become the norm. Notwithstanding the lessons of history (South Sea Bubble and 1929 Depression) things have gone from bad to worse under the Bush family and the Blair administrations. Yet we stupidly listen to economists who believe in the Christian fable.
My films will never be seen because of the Christian infection of all political parties in Australia. I call for all religions to lose their fiscal immunity from having to pay taxes, rates and to receive grants for education – so that the taxpayer no longer subsidises religion.
Religions have behaved so badly with them sponsoring global corporatist capitalism but also by censorship and trying to force their ideas about abortion and condoms onto taxpayers. So we don’t ban them – just make them fund their own silly ideas. Back to where we were under Menzies. The Pit Bull terrier from Alaska has really given the game away!
As for the lame dog Rudd – I just ask how many lifetimes have I got to have before I can sell or even just show a film of mine? We must wake up!”
Richard supported the anti-censorship cause through statements to the media, personal appearances, letter-writing and donations of whatever he thought meaningful and appropriate.
In a letter to me on 12.6.2000 recording one such donation to our collection, he says “I do this to register my protest against the Liberal Party and their attitude to censorship as exemplified by the upstart liar, John Winston Howard and his useless Attorney General, the nonentity Williams, and his bunch of ignoramuses at the OFLC.“ Richard rarely minced his words.
He will be sadly missed but I would like to suggest to all Eros members that they take some time to look at his work and understand how much of it interacts with and comments on the world of erotica and censorship that Australia’s adult industry is based on.