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A bond of friendship

by Yvonne Audette, 1 June 2005

Australia's major abstract painter Yvonne Audette discusses her portrait of sculptor Robert Kippel.

Robert Klippel, 1979 David Moore
Robert Klippel, 1979 David Moore

It was my dear friend Robert Klippel who first suggested I undertake a portrait for the 1980 Archibald Prize. Though I am primarily an abstract painter, I have always loved to draw from life, and I retorted 'Well, I'll only do it if I can paint you!' So that is how the painting of Bob, which I have recently gifted to the National Portrait Gallery, came into being.

As it turned out, the 1980 Archibald Prize was one of those rare occasions where no prize was awarded as the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales were unable to select a clear winner. I first met Robert Klippel in late 1956, when I had returned from Europe to visit my family in Sydney. My friend, teacher and mentor John Passmore introduced us, and we struck up a very good friendship instantly. Bob and I would discuss art constantly and our conversations would delve into a diverse range of artistic practices, including those of the ancient Egyptians and prehistoric peoples. We would look at the whole pattern of art and how it developed. Of course, we also had similar overseas experience in America and an interest in abstract expressionism. The basis of our friendship was art, and I would say quite honestly that Bob was the best person I have ever met in my life to talk with about art.

In my painting of Bob, I wanted to bring out the varying aspects of his complex nature. Bob was a very talkative, friendly and highly intelligent person, at times forthright, but with a very gentle and sweet personality He had a great kindness of heart and I remember fondly his kind offer to store all of my paintings free of charge when I was in a spot looking for studio space in the late 60s. At the same time there was a certain sadness to him, which I also attempted to capture. Besides being a very good thinker he was at times very tormented - he just couldn't accept some things as they were and he never felt he was good enough. Simultaneously I wanted to show his strength; he had a very stately quality, and an intense gaze.

To undertake this painting, particularly as Bob and I lived in different cities. I needed to draw on various source materials. I had a lot of sketches of him which I had done over the years and he visited me twice in Melbourne while I was painting. I also referred to a number of photographs taken by David Moore. David was a close friend of mine and in 19681 had asked him to photograph both Bob and me in our studios, These images were used in the catalogue for exhibitions which Bob and I had concurrently at Kim Bonython's Art Gallery. As it happens these photographs are also in the National Portrait Gallery's collection.

I intentionally placed in the foreground of the painting bits of scrap iron that Bob used in building his sculptures. It would have been inadequate just to show the sculpture behind him, as the bits and pieces were an integral part of part of Bob's life. We used to go together to the junkyards where he would collect all sorts of scrap metal and put it into the back of his ute. These trips to the docklands in Sydney to collect junk completely fascinated me.

Throughout my career, I have done numerous sketches working from live figures but only a few realistic paintings. I love to draw and enjoy trying to capture the character of the sitter, and I hope particularly that Bob's character has been sympathetically realised in this painting.

Portrait of Robert Klippel, 1980. All Yvonne Audette.

Related people

Robert Klippel AO

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