Potts Point, New South Wales, Australia 1920 – Sydney, Australia 2001
Number 24, Harry Boyd
[Harry Boyd (aika 'adam-figure')] 1946 Title Notes: Harry Boyd (also known as 'Adam figure') opus 24
Materials & Technique: sculptures, carved Hawkesbury sandstone
Robert Klippel’s monumental sculpture Number 24, Harry Boyd was initially inspired by a friend who posed for him early in 1946. What is so striking about this work, however, is not that this is a portrait of a particular individual but rather the ways in which it relates to universal, ancient interpretations of the figure, encapsulating in its bulk a sense of compressed masculine power and energy. Klippel wrote in a letter to a friend, Jack Giles, in January 1947: ‘I wanted a feeling of bigness – not physically but some intangible sense of immensity.’1 It was a remarkable achievement for a 26-year old in his first year at East Sydney Technical College.
The strength of the work, with its curved and angular carved planes, emanates from the young sculptor’s interest in African sculpture and European Modernism, from his efforts to resolve problems of form and from his own emotional response.
Klippel did schematic drawings as well as clay studies before embarking on the more arduous task of carving the figure from one ton of Hawkesbury sandstone. James Gleeson wrote:
it is fascinating to see the strict geometry that lies behind the conception. It is worked out with a tremendous concern for formal values. The most passionate and the most elemental of all his works has been built on a framework of exact and refined calculations.2
As we contemplate these ideas, we come to realise that, although this early masterpiece is the antithesis of Klippel’s best-known and more intricately complex works, there is already a precision and an underlying spirit of inquiry that would characterise the extraordinary inventiveness of his later development.
1Robert Klippel, letter to Jack Giles, January 1947.
2James Gleeson, Robert Klippel, Sydney: Bay Books, 1983, p.23.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002