Stanislaus Rapotec’s rough, explosive works, like Experience in the far west were, provocatively, pure abstract gestures from the subconscious and also evocations of outback landscape. His Experience in Broken Hill 1962 was a token of the newest art being produced in Australia at that time and shown in an exhibition prepared that year for the Tate Gallery, London. Experience in the far west refers to similar New South Wales semi-desert country. It was recommended for the National Collection by Commonwealth Art Advisory Board member Russell Drysdale who, in 1944, also painted memorable images of drought-devastated areas of north-western New South Wales.
Rapotec was born in Trieste, Italy, brought up in Ljubljana, Slovenia, studied at Zagreb, and served with the Allied Forces in the Middle East during the Second World War. Following the war he emigrated to Australia and began to paint, developing a personal abstract approach. He painted large-scale expressive images, working quickly and directly, to work out the feelings rooted in his subconscious. He maintained that ‘the more you can pull out of your subconscious the closer you’ll come to the quality which we call fluency, spontaneity, sincerity.’1
A broad generational shift to non-objective and abstract painting was taking place when an alarmed Antipodean Manifesto denounced abstraction in preference for figurative art, declaring in 1959: ‘Today tachistes, action painters, geometric abstractionists, abstract expressionists and their … camp followers threaten to benumb the intellect and wit of art with their bland and pretentious mysteries.’2 The Abstractionists, mostly based in Sydney, responded to the mostly Melbourne Antipodeans with an exhibition called 9 Sydney 1961, shown in both cities. Organised by John Olsen and Leonard Hessing and including the work of Rapotec and sculptor Clement Meadmore, many of the works were landscape-based. Thus, although abstract, they also presumably fulfilled the Antipodean ‘duty [to draw] upon our experience both of society and nature in Australia’.3
Daniel Thomas 2002
1Stanislaus Rapotec, quoted in Laurie Thomas The Most Noble of Them All: The Selected Writings of Laurie Thomas Brisbane: University of Queensland Press 1976 p.155.
2The Antipodean Manifesto, printed in full in Steve Tonkin and Deborah Clark The Antipodeans: Challenge and response in Australian art 1955–1965 Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1999 pp.42–43.
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