The Artist – The Larwill Studio, Parkville

  • David Larwill

    David Larwill

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David Larwill's works

  • David Larwill

    Woman and dog, 1984

    In this early painting we see a technique of painting an abstract background and then shaping these forms into recognisable figures. Inspired by the CoBrA art movement in Europe in the 1940’s, these early works are characterised by dense layers of underpainting. Often depicting animals and people, the works show a democratic treatment of scale; note how the human and the dog are of similar scale, suggesting a strong regard for all creatures.

  • David Larwill

    Dream with Simp, 1995

    Throughout the nineties Larwill established a noticeable density in his images. Here, both subjects and patterns are woven together to form a mosaic-like surface. This work bears the influence of Swiss artist Paul Klee in the way that colour is revealed against a black background. Both artists admired the spontaneity of children’s drawings. Many of his paintings were based on personal subject matter and ‘Simp’ refers to a friend of the artist.

  • David Larwill


    In later paintings, Larwill discovers a looser painting style that echoes early works from the eighties. Here, figures, letters, and motifs float upon a white background. Painted after the birth of his first child, the work evokes the hectic life of parenthood and is in keeping with the very personal narratives of the artist’s work.

David Larwill is a significant figure in the art world. His unique mixture of childlike freshness, simplicity and sophistication has established him as one of the leading figurative expressionists in Australia. Alongside Mark Schaller, he was a founding member of Roar Studios in Melbourne.

David Larwill was a storyteller, a free spirit who had a name for each painting and a nickname for all. 

He was born in Ballarat, in 1956. Together with several other young artists, Larwill established Roar Studios in Melbourne’s Fitzroy. This gallery space was run as a cooperative, an egalitarian collective set up by artists who were having trouble finding a studio to work with and who found it difficult to show their work in the established mainstream galleries. Larwill said, "It was a reaction against the art establishment of the time and provoked a major reassessment of the Melbourne art scene". The artists helped each other spiritually and financially, and their work was sold privately and also purchased by the State Galleries and the National Gallery in Canberra. Larwill was a born socialiser, a larrikin who easily brought people together and it wasn't long before he was the ringleader of the group. He was influenced by the CoBrA artists, admirers of the prehistoric and unsophisticated art, Jean Dubuffet and Australia's Angry Penguins, Perceval, Boyd, Tucker and Nolan. He unapologetically rallied against theory-centred styles and conceptual art and pushed his visually exhilarating spontaneous works as far as he could. He said, "I just wanted to paint and I wanted people to smile when they looked at my paintings". Larwill remained faithful to his early icons tribal art and populated his paintings with animated human figures, animals, and the occasional inclusion of graffiti-related slogans, which give his work a naive quality.

The development of Larwill's personal style was a natural process; he felt a need for a sense of order but didn't focus on single objects, preferring to group many figures together to form a geometrically balanced image. He evokes an extraordinary range of feelings, moods and expressions through his paintings; they create an impact on an emotional and sensory level rather than through intellectual or mental constructs. Larwill's artistic experience is direct, it is an autobiographical visual diary of socio-political attitudes and the viewer is obliged to respond spontaneously to the core truth of each work. His stylistic marks prefer to celebrate the joyous side of life and there is a strong narrative throughout his works; they reflect what's happening around him, familiar things like family, friends, street life, the beach, parties and his great love, Indigenous art.

Larwill is an artist who harnessed and refined his emotional desire to put paint on canvas, enabling him to produce sophisticated works motivated by emotion and executed in a mature, considered and polished manner. His unique mixture of childlike freshness, simplicity and the sophistication established him as one of the leading figurative expressionists in Australia. Ever since his first one-man exhibition at Roar Studios, Larwill has remained a significant figure in the art world.

Larwill exhibited widely throughout Australia and overseas, and his work has been translated by the internationally renowned Victorian Tapestry Workshop into several giant tapestries, the largest hanging in the Esplanade - Theatres on the bay in Singapore. David Larwill is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, most State and Regional Galleries and in the British Museum, London.

- Ken McGregor