Robert Klippel was Australia’s most significant sculptor. He died in Sydney in 2001 on his eight-first birthday, Tuesday 19th June, after almost sixty years of artistic output. He was a gentle and quiet man who shunned publicity and generally he was not as well known as he deserved. Nonetheless, he was respected and held in very high regard by the art world, most especially in Sydney. In 2002, he was the subject of a very successful retrospective, entitled Robert Klippel: A Tribute Exhibition, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Its associated print and electronic catalogue, where this sculpture is documented, is the definitive reference work on the artist.
Sometime in early 1987, Klippel embarked upon a series of sculptures based upon the shapes and formal attributes of signal flags, marine buoys and beacons. He became sculpturally interested in the verticality of their structures and their formal and spatial transitions from thick massed bases to slender elegant apexes. For Klippel, who had learned to read them, they were a form of visual language and seemed like marine totems; that is, ones that waved warnings or demarcated zones and others that pointed directions.
Perhaps it was natural that Klippel’s attention should turn that way. After all, his first major bronze sculpture of 1982, the impressive Group of Eight commission for the National Gallery of Australia, as placed in its external Sculpture Garden, stressed the totem-like sentinel qualities of columnar structures. These seemed to guard a place on land – buoys and beacons, on the other hand, guard a place on water.
Klippel’s vertical bronze sculpture Opus 667 of 1987 shows a finely articulated progression of non-mechanical forms. Like many in this series the upright sculpture is a made up of a vertical progression of shapes that arise from a massed base, through a simplified mid-section and up to a more refined apex of simplified forms. Often these uppermost elements seem almost two-dimensional in their focus upon a characteristically narrowed flatness.
Additionally, Klippel’s Opus 667 seems almost to be capable of swivelling, windvane-like, on its vertical base. Furthermore, its “lighter” upper shapes, slightly reminiscent of Japanese flags, serve to emphasize the more totemic attributes of the bronze’s lower section in ways that accentuate its spatially harmonious relationship between “open” and “closed” forms and “massed” and “linear” shapes.
Klippel’s Opus 667 is a hallmark bronze that typifies the artist’s refinement of the visual language of his massed silhouetted shapes during the mid to late Eighties.