I seek the interrelationship between the cogwheel and the bud Robert Klippel


Robert Klippel  1968. Photo: Robert Walker

Australian sculpture owes much to Robert Klippel. Renowned for maintaining an unflinching commitment to a singular vision for six decades of active practice, Klippel is arguably one of Australia's most distinguished sculptors.

Born in Sydney, Klippel spent much of this early life in and around the harbour, which led to a love for building model ships. In 1939 he followed this passion for the sea and joined the Royal Australian Navy. After a short stint of service, he returned to the mainland to take up a position as an aircraft model maker for the Gunnery School, Woolloomooloo.

At 24, Klippel turned his full attention to developing his art practice. The next few years would see him move in and out of various art courses and colleges (1944-46 East Sydney Technical College (ESTC) under Lyndon Dadswell, 1947 Slade School, London), which never seemed to fit his needs or learning style. Robert Klippel Untitled 1981. cast bronze. Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Small Sculpture Collection Purchase. Photo: Clare LewisWhile in London, Klippel struck up a friendship with fellow Australian painter James Gleeson. The two shared a house, a love of art history and had definite effects on each other's work at the time. (No 465 featured right, was originally a gifted to James Gleeson according to the etching on the bottom of the work and Untitled, featured left, was gifted to Gleeson's life partner and muse, Frank O'Keefe). Eventually, Klippel left London and spent 18 months in Paris where he undertook a self-directed study tour.

1950 saw him return to Australia, where he worked in various jobs (salesman, industrial designer) to support himself while working on his sculpture. Klippel constructed the first of his metal sculptures in 1953. This departure from more familiar materials such as wood was an important development for his work.

Over his vast career Klippel was entirely committed to his own investigations into the union of organic and machine forms. For Klippel the machine served both as material and aesthetic. He saw the machine for what it was, and although he drew on its shapes, forms and functions, he wasn't concerned with echoing the views of the cubists, futurists and constructivists of the past. His interest lay in the ability for these hard industrial materials to convey organic ideals such as growth.

Robert Klippel No 465 1983. cast bronze. 29.5 x 6 x 6 cm. Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Small Sculpture Collection Purchase. Photo: Clare Lewis In the late 1950's and early 1960's Klippel spent time living, working and teaching in the US (New York and Minneapolis School of Arts). His time in America was fruitful; he had branched out into 'junk' sculpture, then a relatively new and unknown form in sculpture. Although he had already explored similar concepts in the late 1940s in his wooden toy constructions in Paris and again in the early 1950s through collage studies of machinery and junk, it wasn't until the 1960s that he fully embraced the possibilities presented by discarded metal objects.

By the time he returned to Australia in mid-1960, Klippel was considered Australia's foremost sculptor. For the first time his works were received in his home country with praise and sales.

1966 saw Klippel make his second trip to Minneapolis, USA as the visiting Professor of Sculpture at the Minneapolis School of Art. On his return from USA, he brought a number of small bronzes back with him to Australia (Untitled and No 465, both included in this exhibition,  are later versions of these). These were only small, but in scale they are monumental and were 'on the rhythm of now' according to Klippel.

For the remainder of his life Klippel lived and worked in Sydney. Although they did not live together, fellow artist and sculptor Rosemary Madigan was his partner for the last 28 years of his life. In 1995 they produced a beautiful collection of 87 polychromed tin sculptures titled Nos 1037—1126 for an Art Gallery of NSW exhibition.

The last few decades saw his work fluctuate between materials and techniques, but never far from his favoured 20th century modernism practices of assemblage and collage.

Robert Klippel holds a place as one of Australia's most prolific sculptors, completing over 1200 works before his death in 2001. His work is represented in the majority of National and State Gallery collections.










Visit the Art Gallery of NSW collection page for Robert Klippel’s exhibition Nos. 1037-1126 Eighty-seven small polychromed tin sculptures. Drawing inspiration from the exhibition create your own small collection of forms.





Discuss this quote: I seek the interrelationship between the cogwheel and the bud Robert Klippel





Watch the video about Robert Klippel and then browse the National Gallery of Victoria and Art Gallery of New South Wales collections of works by Klippel, paying particular attention to his drawings.











Collage was a technique Klippel returned to many times throughout his career. Source some magazines/printouts and create your own collage which focuses on a juxtaposition e.g. organic vs mechanical, architectural vs anatomical, geometric vs curvilinear.





Discuss this quote: It’s not good enough just to take bits of machinery and join them together, one must have some sort of concept or some philosophy or something deeper, because the machine – it is true we are living in a machine age, but to find the equivalent in plants or flowers and things growing, this growing thing, something which has life in it. That is the nature of art, I think, to give life to forms Robert Klippel





Australian sculpture scene in 1969 video – Robert Klippel section starts at 15 mins 50 secs. The work shown in the film is most probably No. 247, Metal construction made in 1965-68 by Klippel. Discuss this work in relation to the quote above, agree or disagree.





IMAGES: Portrait: Robert Klippel 1968. Photo: Robert Walker. Robert Klippel Untitled 1981. cast bronze. Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Small Sculpture Collection Purchase. Photo: Clare Lewis. Robert Klippel No 465 1981. cast bronze. Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Small Sculpture Collection Purchase. Photo: Clare Lewis.