“In 1999, I came across nine copies of the French satirical journal Le Rire in a local second-hand bookshop. Two things influenced my decision to buy them - the fact that they were mostly published in 1937, the year I was born, and the frequent appearance of cartoons by Picq. What attracted me to Picq’s work was its precision. As it turned out, crisp outlines were also a feature of cartoons by Tayvar and Nitro.

Le Rire (Laughter) was founded by Felix Juven in October 1894, in a climate of anti-government feeling fuelled by the Drefus Affair. As a product of the Belle Époque, it counted among its contributors, artists and illustrators such as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Jean-Louis Forain and Théophile Steinlen. The Journal ceased publication in the 1950s, but was revived for a short time in the 1970s.

The Le Rire paintings I exhibited at the Tolarno Galleries in 2007 were based on six of Picq’s cartoons and one each by Tayvar and Nitro. So far, I haven’t been able to find out anything about the three cartoonists.

Since the early 1990s, when I began using illustrations in obscure children’s books as the basis for paintings, I have avoided images that can be pinned down to a particular period. For example, I would never use Manga or Boys Own Annual-style illustrations, because their origins would be instantly recognisable. Although earlier, in 1985, I had combined World War II images with explosions from the Manga version of Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers). On the whole, the cartoons I have chosen have the timeless quality that I prefer.

The exhibition Le Rire 2008 features five paintings based on images by a cartoonist who signs himself GOD. I found them in a copy of Le Rire (also from 1937) belonging to Jim Bridges, an avid collector of cartoons, who saw my Tolarno exhibition. The paintings are known collectively as Le Rire: Un Beau Tableau. Their source is a sequence of five small panels, one under the other, in which a hare with a rifle takes revenge on two hunters. GOD’s line is thicker than Picq’s making it ideal for coloured outlines.

Picq makes a fresh appearance in the painting Le Rire: Beard and Baby (2008), an unforgettable image of a bearded lady with a baby, which I had previously managed to overlook.”

Robert Rooney, August 2008

Since commencing his exhibiting career in the 1954 Contemporary Art Society annual, Robert Rooney has maintained a relevance and exerted a quiet yet potent influence on contemporary Australian art. He has exhibited extensively throughout Australia and his work has featured in such seminal exhibitions as The Field 1968, National Gallery of Victoria, POPISM 1982, National Gallery of Victoria, The Readymade Boomerang: Certain Relations in 20th Century Art, The Eighth Biennale of Sydney 1990, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Downtown: Ruscha, Rooney, Arkley 1995, Museum of Modern Art at Heide and more recently 21st Century Modern - 2006 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia. Survey exhibitions have included From the Homefront: Robert Rooney Works 1953-1988, 1990, Monash University Gallery, Melbourne and Survey 3: Robert Rooney, 1978, National Gallery of Victoria. Robert Rooney’s work is held in all major public collections in Australia. He lives and works in Melbourne.

LE RIRE 2008 is Robert Rooney’s fifth solo exhibition in Sydney and his third with the Darren Knight Gallery. A catalogue illustrating the six paintings in this exhibition is available. For further information please contact Darren Knight Gallery.