Stacha Halpern

15 April - 8 May 2010

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Stacha Halpern 1919 – 1969

Stanislav Halpern, Stacha to his close friends, and to the art world in general, was a painter, ceramicist and printmaker of exceptional vigour, a painter’s painter respected by small circles of artists, friends and patrons in both Melbourne and Paris. In 1939 after the Nazi invasion of his native Poland, Halpern followed two of his brothers to Australia, arriving in Perth days before war was declared. He made his way to Melbourne, a city better suited to his artistic restlessness and more receptive to increasing numbers of exiled Europeans. He became friendly with another Polish refugee, Yosl Bergner, and when the war ended formed friendships with Arthur and David Boyd and John Perceval who had established ‘The Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery’ at Murrumbeena. Stacha had already set himself up as a potter, but his aesthetics and spontaneously brushed glazes, and a lesser concern for formal design and processes, were at odds with the then emerging interest in Japan. His earliest ceramics were bold and his earliest paintings were pared down abstractions, precedents of the texture paintings of the late 1950s Spanish phase of the Australian artists Frank Hodgkinson, Peter Clarke and John Olsen.

In 1947 Halpern was naturalised and by 1950 he held his first solo Melbourne exhibition. His work was generally well received, but he felt an outsider in the Melbourne art world dominated by the figurative tradition and in 1951 decided to leave for London. Halpern however, spent the best part of his artistic career in Paris, from 1953 to 1966, where he made an impact on the local art scene, exhibiting regularly in group and solo shows.

Deux rivages, two shores, plural cultures and languages - these are critical to the immigrant’s sense of self. We see this in both the Australian and French phases of his life, for it is in the former he felt a sense of isolation, in the latter he always classified himself as Australian, as if to accentuate this duality. Over this period his painting developed a richer texture, a rhapsodic turbulence, even a violent sensuousness, as seen in the large canvas Carcass (Boeuf) c. 1960 (illus), or Landscape, Paris 1962. The uninhibited glorification of existence is reflected in the palpable impasto of every brush stroke, even when an agonistic mood prevails, while a sinewy romanticism pervades several landscapes and self-portraits. Soutine, Kossoff, Auerbach and existentialist artists of the post-war Informel movement such as Dubuffet and Giacometti, and writers such as Bataille, Camus and Sartre, appear natural allies.

Stacha Halpern was an exuberant man who sought out the genuine and vital nature of whatever captivated him, whether a carcass of beef hanging in an open market, a face, landscape or the sea. At the ‘Western end’ of the French Mediterranean coastline he had even been known to paint standing amongst the waves, as if he had to paint ‘within it’ to understand it.1 This gives a magisterial, spiritual quality — as with Landscape, 1958 — that is reminiscent of Turner’s ethereal late works.

Halpern’s commitment to art was absolute, and he was able to make a reasonable living from it. In 1966 he decided to return to Australia, which ‘he regarded as home’, and in his last years began to focus more on his relationship with his fellow humans. His portraits, self-portraits (illus) and ‘Multiple Frame’ series resonate with a promethean, gestural expressionism and visceral beauty symptomatic of a man who found life and art inseparable.

Sheridan Palmer, March 2010


1 Cid Corman, The Unforgettable Substance, unpublished manuscript, 1984, courtesy of Beth Halpern Wilson.

artwork Landscape by HALPERN, Stacha

1.  Stacha Halpern
Landscape 1958
oil on canvas
signed, inscribed and dated
76 x 122  cm

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artwork Carcass (Boeuf) by HALPERN, Stacha

2.  Stacha Halpern
Carcass (Boeuf) c. 1960
oil on canvas
200 x 126  cm

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artwork Landscape by HALPERN, Stacha

3.  Stacha Halpern
Landscape 1962
oil on canvas
signed and dated l.r.
64 x 99  cm

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artwork Untitled (Portrait) by HALPERN, Stacha

4.  Stacha Halpern
Untitled (Portrait) c. 1965
oil on unstretched canvas
unsigned
36.5 x 20  cm

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artwork Portrait by HALPERN, Stacha

5.  Stacha Halpern
Portrait 1967
six glazed tiles
signed and dated l.r.
31 x 26  cm

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artwork Portrait by HALPERN, Stacha

6.  Stacha Halpern
Portrait 1968
oil on canvas board
inscribed
41 x 30  cm

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artwork Portrait by HALPERN, Stacha

7.  Stacha Halpern
Portrait 1968
oil on canvas board
signed l.r.; dated, titled and inscribed ’68/ Portrait/ Melbourne’ verso
41 x 30  cm

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artwork (Reclining Nude) by HALPERN, Stacha

8.  Stacha Halpern
(Reclining Nude) 1968
oil on canvas
unsigned
59 x 82  cm

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artwork (Bush Landscape) by HALPERN, Stacha

9.  Stacha Halpern
(Bush Landscape) 1968
oil on board
unsigned
23 x 17.5  cm

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artwork Laura by HALPERN, Stacha

10.  Stacha Halpern
Laura 1968
oil on board
unsigned
182 x 116  cm

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artwork Abstraction with Face, Melbourne by HALPERN, Stacha

11.  Stacha Halpern
Abstraction with Face, Melbourne 1968
oil on canvas
unsigned
168 x 166  cm

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artwork Portrait by HALPERN, Stacha

12.  Stacha Halpern
Portrait 1968
oil on canvas
signed and dated l.l.; titled and dated verso
31 x 31  cm

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artwork Face I by HALPERN, Stacha

13.  Stacha Halpern
Face I 1968
terracotta
signed and dated
25 x 16 x 12  cm

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artwork Face IV by HALPERN, Stacha

14.  Stacha Halpern
Face IV 1968
terracotta
unsigned
40 x 28 x 17  cm

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artwork La Femme by HALPERN, Stacha

15.  Stacha Halpern
La Femme 1968
terracotta
signed and dated
15 x 16 x 8  cm

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