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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Tumult in the clouds



Robert Rooney


24 Sep 1937 - 21 Mar 2017


'Tumult in the clouds' 1985 is from a significant body of work Rooney produced in the mid-1980s drawing upon the war-time imagery of his childhood, quoted from secondary sources. These works conflate the popularisation of violence which occured during the Second World War with post-modern considerations of spectacle, artifice and mediation, while maintaining a connection to Rooney's earlier practice in abstraction.

Although he was only eight when the war ended, Rooney has recalled how the memory of wartime remained with him vividly as an adult, in particular the way 'war seemed to occupy one's life completely - including things like Australian animals in comic strips fighting the Japs and Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny sending up Hitler'.

The works in Rooney's 1985 solo show 'One Complete Abstract Painting Included in Every Picture' addressed this entanglement of violence and popular culture, politics and capitalism. A number of the canvases were visually linked by the use of camoflauge patterning - an effect Andy Warhol began to make use of the following year.

In 'Tumult in the clouds', the camouflage effect is somewhat distorted, with the swirling sections of orange, grey and black also invoking flames and smoke, as well as military maps and charts - as Philip Brophy has noted. Layered within this colourful 'explosion' is a spiralling warplane alongside which two scantily-clad female figures appear almost humorously like illustrations of fashion mannequins.

Cool and cartoon-like in style, the work reflects Rooney's experience of wartime mediated and sanitised through popular culture, bringing this into dialogue with the 'evacuation of the real' that informed postmodern image-making of the period.




Media category


Materials used

synthetic polymer paint on canvas


122.2 x 183.0 cm stretcher

Signature & date

Signed u.l. verso on canvas, orange synthetic polymer paint "ROBERT ROONEY...".
Dated u.r. verso on canvas, orange synthetic polymer paint "...1985".


Gift of Terry and Tina Smith 2013. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Robert Rooney

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Philip Brophy, From the homefront: Robert Rooney works 1953-1988, 'Robert Rooney as Pop', pg. 22-28, Clayton, 1990, 27.

Paula Dredge, Look, '20th century paint: a worldwide scientific search to find ways to care for it', pg. 31-32, Sydney, May 2014, 32 (colour illus.).

Anneke Jaspers, Pop to popism, 'Art of the second degree: post pop and popism', pg. 233-280, Sydney, 2014, 264 (colour illus.), 303, 325.

Terry Smith, Australian painting 1788-1990, 'A problematic practice', pg. 452-494, South Melbourne, 1991, 471.