Primitive Gold 1982

Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 210 x 209.8

signed and dated [on reverse]

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Michell Endowment, 1982 [DC44-1982]

First shown in the 1982 ‘Popism’ show at the NGV, as Primitive (Gold). For detailed discussion of this work and its silver twin, see Spray, noting the repetition of stylized words here (‘evermore’, ‘of the’, ‘for you can’, ‘eros’, etc.). The effect is of a series of sound grabs or fragments of conversation, matching the dense array of disparate visual imagery – both everyday and imaginary – strewn across the surface. Ray Edgar (2006) suggests that the words came from a letter the artist had received.

The monumental scale of both canvases, and their gold and silver backgrounds (possibly suggestive of Byzantine icons) might signify the paradoxical value Arkley gave this apparently random collection of stuff. While both paintings clearly reflected the artist’s new figurative direction through their reworking of the imagery of Primitive [mural](1981) [W/P], they also echo the square format and all-over patterning of his 1980-81 canvases.


  • purchased directly from the artist via Tolarno in 1982


  • NGV 1982 (‘Popism’), as Primitive (Gold)
  • HA Monash 1991, cat.39 (details as above)
  • HA retrospective 2006-7 (shown in Melbourne only)
  • Pop to Popism, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1 Nov.2014 – 1 March 2015
  • HA TarraWarra 12/15-2/16


  • Spray 49-50, inc. ill.: as Primitive (Gold)
  • Carnival 68-9 and Fig.2.16, also as Primitive (Gold)
  • NGVA Arkley audio-guide 2006 (comments by Ray Edgar, cited above)
  • Tunnicliffe & Jaspers 2014 (Pop to Popism, 265 (ill.)