September 1969
Oil on board
916 x 916mm

This early work comes from a period when Richard Killeen was interested, like many of his contemporaries, in giving critical expression to the suburban monotony which enveloped the lives of many people as Aotearoa’s cities grew. It is not surprising that these works coincide with the first stirrings of the women’s movement in New Zealand and the growing awareness of what at the time was called ‘suburban neurosis’. Many will recall a popular song of the time about people who look the same and live in the same little boxes.

In this work, a dead man lies unnoticed on the floor as if about to be stepped over by a group of uncaring suburban partygoers. Like cardboard cut-outs, Killeen’s figures do not seem fully fleshed and their hands are folded or awkwardly clasped behind their backs as if purely for reasons of compositional symmetry. The faces of the figures are entirely vacuous and bear uncanny similarities. They are in an existential limbo, like the people in the theological limbo who feel no pain and whose bodies coexist between hell and salvation in a state of divine abandon and sensory deprivation. Suburbia is the limbo of the 20th century.

The installation views show Dead Man at Barry Lett Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau, where it was first exhibited in 1970, and with Peter McLeavey at McLeavey Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, where it was exhibited in 1994.

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Richard Killeen / 90 The Drive Auck. 3 / Dead Man / September 1969 / 36" x 36" / Oil on hardboard [label verso]

Exhibition History

Richard Killeen, Dead Man, Dead Woman, Peter McLeavey Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 1994

Richard Killeen, Barry Lett Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau, 1970


Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from McLeavey Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, July 1994

Collection of the artist