Luke Roberts: Growing up in Alpha, Queensland


In his diptych The Spearing (A) and (B) 2009, Luke Roberts sets up an open dialogue between two images that parodies the art world, and agitates Australian race relations.

In one frame, the history of tyrants is grasped in the hands of Roberts in his hometown of Alpha in central west Queensland (situated approximately 400 kilometres to the west of Rockhampton). In the other, the museological history of aboriginal artefacts is brought into the contemporary context of a white studio in which Indigenous Australian artist Richard Bell stands ready to throw a spear out of the frame on an implied path toward the arched back of Roberts.

Both the spear and the book, titled Tyrants: History’s 100 most evil despots and dictators, are playfully recontextualised into a narrative that invites questions about the presence of tyranny in Australia’s past and present.

Video: Luke Roberts discusses his work

Luke Roberts ‘The Spearing (A) and (B)’ 2009

Luke Roberts, Australia b.1952 / The Spearing (A) and (B) 2009 / Camera: John Elliott (A); Kevyn Chase (B) / Giclée print on paper / Two parts: 210 x 140cm (comp., each) / The James C. Sourris AM Collection. Gift of James C. Sourris AM through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Luke Roberts

Video: Luke Roberts discusses his connection to Harriet Jane Neville-Rolfe

In the spring of 1883, the young British artist Harriet Jane Neville-Rolfe sailed to Australia from her family home in Norfolk to join her siblings on a cattle station. Alpha Station was extremely remote in the 1880s, however it dominated the area and grew to more than 1600 square kilometres by the 1890s. Over two years, Neville-Rolfe recorded life on Alpha in vivid washes of watercolour and sent many of these drawings back to her family in England before she returned. In 1964, 87 of these watercolours were gifted to the Gallery by Major Clement Rolfe Ingleby in memory of his mother, Harriet Jane Neville-Rolfe.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this country. It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs on the QAGOMA Blog are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.