Opus 195 Metal Construction

Robert KLIPPEL: artist

Not On Display

About the work

Robert Klippel was born in Sydney and was twentyfour before he discovered his potential as an artist. He began making model ships when a schoolboy but it was years before this skill was directed to sculptural carving.

During the 1939-45 war he was in the Royal Australian Navy and made models of ships and planes for recognition purposes. When he left the navy he attended classes at the East Sydney Technical College, only for a short time because he found himself at variance with prevailing attitudes.

In 1947 he went to England to study at the Slade School of Art and stay at The Abbey, a mansion made available as a residence for working artists. Dissatisfied with the methods adopted at the school he left after only six months to pursue his own course, studying at the National History Museum, the Science Museum and machinery shows seeking the relationships, divergencies or similarities of forms, and working in clay, stone and wood.

A joint exhibition with the surrealist painter James Gleeson was held in London in 1948, a collaboration which was to be repeated in Sydney thirty years later. After living for two years in Paris, Klippel returned to Sydney in 1950 where he worked in the family business until 1954 and made his first metal sculptures which were considered to be extremely avant-garde. Even in 1966 when one of his metal sculptures was purchased for this Gallery there were many who did not understand it and loudly called it rubbish.

In 1957 Klippel went to America to experience a more sophisticated, knowledgeable art atmosphere, especially in New York, and took up a position as Sculpture Instructor at the Minneapolis School of Art until 1962. The following year he returned to Sydney and combined part-time teaching at the National Art School with making sculpture and exhibiting, until he was invited to return to Minneapolis as visiting Professor of Sculpture in 1966. A year later he came back to Sydney to concentrate on his own sculpture, drawings and collages and continued to work in wood, plastic, metal and bronze casting, while teaching at the Alexander Mackie College.

Klippel is methodical and fastidious; so painstaking that a piece might take ten years to complete. He has consistently pursued an independent path in style and approach, often making assemblages of metal from junk broken down and reassembled into a new context. He has given this explanation - 'I work in junk partly because I couldn't produce forms like that in other materials. Imagine trying to make them in bronze or wood'.1

Prolific in ideas, his works range from miniature to monumental, with concern for space rather than volume, and original both in conception of the idea and use of material. He is noted for drawings in which these attributes are incorporated. Whatever he does will embody his statement 'An artist does not have to depend on others or the art scene; it's what's inside you that counts'.2

Klippel shows in Opus 195 Metal Construction his remarkable ingenuity in creating an entity from discarded bits of metal, the material being secondary to the design. Two sections are set up which are joined towards the base and striking patterns are made by the juxtaposition of these sections, as one makes a changing background of counterpoint to the other, according to the alteration of the viewing position.

Every piece plays its part in a complex relationship, exerting an exciting interplay of thrusts and directions. The pieces of metal used in the construction lose their identity as utilitarian objects and become elements in the abstract omposition, which is an intricate structure, presenting to the spectator almost bewildering possibilities for the discovery of different relationships between the particular parts.

Ella Fry, Gallery Images, St George Books, Perth, 1984

References: 1 Robert Hughes, 'Robert Klippel' in Art and Australia, Vol. 2, No. 1964; 2 N. Waterlow, 'Art after a Decade' in Nation Review, October 1977.
Opus 195 Metal Construction
Artist/Maker and role
Robert KLIPPEL: artist
Brazed steel and found objects - (copper, chrome, aluminium, glass and plastic)
125.5 x 94 x 78 cm
Credit line
Purchased 1966
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Accession number

This is one of the sculptures in our collection.


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