For most of her life Pat Larter was regarded as a muse, the subject of much of her husband, Richard Larter's, art. In reality she was often the instigator of the sexually confronting performances he filmed. By the mid-1970s she began to emerge as an artist in her own right, becoming a major figure in International Mail Art. Later she turn to painting and mixed media work. Her career was cut short by her untimely death.
Even though her works have now entered public collections Pat Larter is better known as the subject of many of her husband’s best known paintings. Patricia Florence Holmes was born at Leytonstone in Essax, the daughter of Leslie Holmes, a decorator, and his wife, Pansy. Her father died of tuberculosis when she was four, and her mother supplemented her income by fostering children. The family lived at Canvey Island at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. On leaving school at 15, she took a position as office junior at Perfect Lambert & Co, a London marine surveying company. Here she met the trainee marine surveyor, Richard Larter, who took great pleasure in introducing her to cinema and other creative pleasures. He was staying with her family at Canvey Island on 1 February 1953 when a storm from the North Sea broke the sea wall, completely submerging the island, killing 58 people. On 18 February they married. Pat worked a number of jobs, including as a salesperson and demonstrator for surgical goods, a barmaid and a photographic and artist’s model until the birth of their first child, Lorraine. As Richard developed his art, with a close awareness of British Pop art, especially Eduardo Paolozzi, she became his model, the first subject for most of his art. Richard trained to become a high school art teacher and in 1962 the family, which now included three children, emigrated to Australia. After initially living in a Housing Commission estate at Bradfield Park, they bought a block of land with a small cottage at Luddenham south-west of Sydney. It was here that Richard painted the works that brought him national fame, and Pat continued to be his main subject, although by 1967 they had five children. From 1966 onwards they began to experiment with sound recordings. In 1969 they bought a super-eight camera and began to experiment with films, usually based on Pat and her comic, sexually explicit, performances. Some of these took place in front of somewhat shocked audiences at Sydney’s Sculpture Centre. In 1974 Richard was appointed visiting lecturer at Elam School of Art in Auckland. Pat joined him in performances in front of the students. When t Terry Reid, organised the Inch Exhibition, as an International Mail art event, she submitted a work in her own name and was awarded the Sandy Shaw Prize by Cees Francke. After they returned to Australia at the end of the year, the persona “Dick & Pat Larter” gradually became active in Mail Art, but in reality Pat was the driving force. In 1975 Pat made her first solo film, Men, a robust critique of sexism. In 1982, Richard, Pat and their youngest daughter Eliza, moved to a large two storey house in rural Yass where Pat relished the comfort after the spartan life of Luddenham, and especially the ready supply of hot water. She was now so prominent in Mail Art circles that in 1986 she was honoured with a retrospective of her mail art at the Artists’ Union in Tokyo. However in the following years she turned towards other art forms. After initially experimenting with laser prints she turned to painting, in part inspired by an exhibition of works of Aboriginal women from Utopia, who had also turned to paint in their maturity. Her first solo exhibition took place at Legge Gallery in 1992 and then in March 1996 she and Richard were both included in the Adelaide Biennial. She was however not well. On 20 September she was admitted to hospital in Canberra, where she died on 6 October 1996. The films made by the Larters were celebrated at the Melbourne Super Eight Festival of that year.