Robert Klippel

Robert Klippel

Last updated September 17, 2012


Robert Klippel was born in 1920. At the age of six he made his first model ship after being taken on a ferry ride on Sydney Harbour. Model making became a passion – he was employed to make models of planes while he was serving in the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships at the Gunnery Instruction Centre during World War II. While working at the Centre he was able to attend evening classes at East Sydney Technical College and, after his discharge, was able to attend for a full year.

His parents’ business was successful and with their support, he left Australia for the Slade College in London – a 6 month experience which did not satisfy his need for freedom of expression. However, in London he met the Australian painter and art critic, James Gleeson, with whom he formed a life-long friendship. In November 1948 Klippel, Gleeson and the young Lucian Freud exhibited together in London. Andre Breton, the originator of Surrealism, arranged for Klippel’s work to be exhibited in Paris the following year. After 18 months in Paris, Klippel returned to Australia.

Australia was culturally dismal in the 1950s, and Klippel's first sculptural work was not sold in this country until 1956. Nor could the artist achieve any commercial success in a short-lived career as an industrial designer. In 1957 he set sail for America, where he remained until 1963, teaching sculpture at the Minneapolis School of Art from 1958-1962. Living in New York in 1957 (and again in 1962-63) Klippel became attuned to the paintings and sculptures of the 'New York' school, and produced his first junk assemblages in 1960, using various parts and sections from old machinery (such as typewriters and cash registers). With these works he subsequently established his mature reputation as a radical new voice in Australian art, after he returned to Sydney in mid-1963.

Living in a huge old house in Birchgrove from 1968, Klippel consolidated his vision and also became, by the 1970s, one of the country's most important collagists. In decades during the 1970s and 80s, when the traditional distinctions between sculpture and architecture, design, photography, performance and painting were frequently presented as obsolete, Klippel's belief in his sculpture was a commitment to the traditional, imaginative concerns of his art.

He remained committed to the idea of sculpture as abstract, as occupying sculptural space, and as sustaining in ways beyond any literary or narrative function. In the 1980s he completed a series of spectacular small bronzes, as well as a large number of monumental wooden assemblages, made from the pattern-parts of early twentieth century maritime machinery.

Klippel's last decades proved extremely prolific. Working with wood, metals, plastics, junk, machinery parts, oils, watercolours and paper, and utilising the techniques of casting, assemblage, painting and collage, he had completed over 1,200 sculptures by the end of the 1990s. His independence of thought continued to mark his creative life, as did the exceptional fertility and suppleness of his sculptural imagination, until his death, during his last major exhibition of work, in June 2001.

Media type.
Gift of the artist in 1998.


Media type.
Gift of the artist in 1998.
No image yet.

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