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Group show: RICK AMOR / ROBERT KLIPPEL (over)

31 August 2004 until 25 September 2004
Rick Amor, Study for Interview, 2002, Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm
  Niagara Galleries

Niagara Galleries
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3121 Richmond, VIC
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Rick Amor

Rick Amor
was born in Frankston, Victoria in 1948. In 1965 he completed a Certificate of Art at the Caulfield Institute of Art and from 1966 to 1968 studied at the National Gallery School, Melbourne where he received an Associate Diploma of Painting. He has been the recipient of several Australia Council studio residencies which have allowed him to work in London, New York and Barcelona. In 1999 he was appointed as the official war artist to East Timor by the Australian War Memorial.

Rick has held over 35 solo exhibitions of his work since first exhibiting at Joseph Brown Gallery in 1974 and has shown annually at Niagara Galleries for the past 20 years. A major survey exhibition of his paintings was curated by McClelland Gallery in 1990 and toured various regional galleries in Victoria and South Australia throughout 1990 and 1991.

In 1993 another exhibition mounted by Bendigo Art Gallery toured Victoria and Tasmania, celebrating his work as a printmaker and graphic artist. An important exhibition of Rick's bronze sculpture was undertaken by Benalla Art Gallery in 2002, including many maquettes never previously exhibited.

In 2001, The Miegunyah Press published Gary Catalano's biography The Solitary Watcher: Rick Amor and his Art. Rick currently lives and works in Melbourne.

Robert Klippel: The pattern-piece constructions

Histories of Australian art have usually been histories only of painting. Robert Klippel's sculptures and drawings are thus too little known outside the world of ardent art collectors and art museums. Yet they might be aesthetically superior to almost all our paintings.

Last year when Melbourne's upgraded NGV International opened on St Kilda Road the twentieth-century collections were disappointing. An essay in Australian Book Review suggested that alongside the small Picasso, and displacing the deservedly forgotten nineteen-fifties Europeans Alan Reynolds and Claude Venard, we might have hoped to see Australian paintings by Fred Williams and John Brack—and sculptures by Klippel.

Similarly when the National Gallery of Australia opened in Canberra a quarter of a century ago, its director James Mollison had no doubt that a 1966 junk-metal sculpture by Klippel, a columnar assemblage of wayward wheels, could keep company with Jackson Pollock's Blue poles . And outdoors in the NGA sculpture garden a group of eight bronzes by Klippel, specially commissioned in 1980, was finished just in time to keep company with standing figures by Rodin.

Born in Sydney in 1920, Klippel died there in 2001 on his eighty-first birthday. He was of the same generation as the Melbourne painters Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker and Sidney Nolan, who emerged in the nineteen-forties, and like them was influenced by Surrealism. Although after 1948 his work was entirely non-figurative it remained more purely surrealist than theirs, yet it had more energy and vitality than most international Surrealism. Like the Melbourne painters he was prolific—1231 sculptures appear in a CD-ROM catalogue raisonné supplied with the hardback edition of the recent AGNSW exhibition book—but unlike them he never seems to have had an off day.

Those who saw Deborah Edwards's wonderful Klippel retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2002 came out exhilarated, as if from a successful physical encounter. Whereas most abstract shows are read as interesting puzzles or as spiritual mysteries, Klippel's produced surprised, glowing delight.

The broad public, generally unfamiliar with the artist, and sceptical of abstract art, readily empathised with Klippel's handcraft, brazing the metal joints, polishing or roughening the surfaces, finding unexpected subtleties of colour. They also sensed a dancing eye and mind making fine decisions about size, scale, direction, relationships, stability, weight and tension. As songwriter Cole Porter would say: "It's so elegant, intelligent."

His thousands of works on paper had often flaunted a playful, Miróesque gaiety of colour. At last in the late sculptures, which were a shift from intimist metal constructions and bronze casts to much larger wooden assemblages made from reclaimed foundry patterns, there was a long outbreak of sonorous colour.

The NGA sculpture-garden commission at last started him on a cache of superbly crafted wooden objects that Klippel had been waiting to use since 1964. Larger than his junk-metal materials and simpler in form, hence more practical for casting in large bronzes for outdoors, they had come from a shipbuilders' yard.

Robert Hughes, for a book on Colin Lanceley, described Lanceley's discovery, in the abandoned offices of the engineering firm, of a basement "crammed to its collapsing ceiling with thousands of obsolete, dusty, spiderwebbed wooden patterns once made for sand-casting maritime machine-parts". Lanceley immediately used them in works that gained high visibility in 1964, and Klippel therefore left his supply to simmer for a couple of decades. Then in 1989 he unveiled his 'Painted Wood Sculptures', and five of that first seventy-nine are now in this Niagara Galleries exhibition. As well as being works of art in their own right they were still, in his mind, models for bronze, like the 1982 group for the NGA sculpture garden ("The artist reserves the right to have bronze castings made of each work"), though few have been cast.

Klippel, born in Potts Point on Sydney Harbour, from the age of six had been an obsessive constructor of model ships. War service was in the Australian Navy. Though his artistic formation occurred in Paris (1948-50) and New York (1957-63) his various Sydney homes all looked onto water and shipping, and his final home and studio, from 1968, was a Birchgrove waterfront, close to the former shipbuilding yard. His formative place has no literal presence in his art, but the Harbour must have had something to do with his insistence that he was concerned with nature in an industrial age, and also with his easy take-off into larger works for outdoor public places.

Robert Hughes's account of Lanceley's discovery included an incantation of cast-iron parts that might be moulded from the colour-coded wooden patterns: "Arbors and axles, cams and poppets, spindle-guides, rings and bushings, rotors, pinions, flywheels, cogs, flanges, manifolds, levers, linkages, propellors and plugs." Deborah Edwards says they looked to Klippel "like a lexicon of all forms in the world. The pieces were especially charged for him, he recognised all their maritime functions, and the meaning of their coded colours".

Klippel insisted to Edwards that he did not want viewers to recognise the past uses of his readymade materials (whereas Rosalie Gascoigne allowed recognition); for him they were purely abstract forms. Maybe so, but his own nautical expertise and knowledge of the past uses must have made it, perhaps subconsciously, easier to persuade the objects to flow and surge in their new life within works of art.

He railed against his training in Sydney and London, where the art schools emphasised observation of exterior things, especially the human figure. He was interested not in the visual surfaces of things but in their insides. He studied plant forms, microscopic zoology, X-ray imagery. He wanted to know, like an engineer or a biologist, what kinds of structure might bring mechanisms or organisms to life. His key statement is "I seek the interrelationship between the cogwheel and the bud" and his rejection of the human figure, along with carving and modelling, in favour of abstract constructions seems to have been a conscious rejection of anthropocentrism. He perhaps sensed that to reference humankind directly in his art was to invite sentimentality and self-indulgence.

Nevertheless he was good at the figure. The first show-stopper in the AGNSW retrospective was a sandstone carving, Harry Boyd , 1946, done at art school in Henry Moore's primitive, Aztec mode: a big object based on a barrel-chested friend of (the slightly built) Klippel, posed as if squeezed inside a one-metre cube. The wooden pattern-part constructions return to human scale, at one to two-and-half metres high, either standing or else contemplating us from a seated Buddha's floor level.

If the small metal constructions had dance-like poise and springy elegance, these senior artist's pieces are slower works, moving to less nervy rhythms. It is often remarked, rather as if it were a fault, that Klippel's sculptures often have a single 'best' viewing standpoint, but then so do most statues, invisibly boxed into their onetime blocks of stone.

Here the constructions of painted wood have metamorphosed from other life-forms. They have lived. They contain experience. They do not wish to be human, but by their gaze and their scale and, above all, their vitality they claim equal importance with humans. They put us in our place.

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