Robert Klippel AO (19 June 1920 – 19 June 2001) was an Australian constructivist sculptor and teacher. He is often described in contemporary art literature as Australia’s greatest sculptor. Throughout his career he produced some 1,300 pieces of sculpture and approximately 5,000 drawings.
Klippel was born in Potts Point, Sydney on 19 June 1920. At the age of six he made his first model ship after being taken on a ferry ride on Sydney Harbour. Model making became a passion. He trained to work in the wool industry but in 1939 he joined the Royal Australian Navy. He was employed to make models of planes while he was serving in the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships at the Gunnery Instruction Centre during World War II.
While working at the centre he was able to attend evening classes in sculpture under Lyndon Dadswell at East Sydney Technical College and after his military discharge, was able to attend for a full year.
His parents’ business was successful and with their support, he left Australia in 1947 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art where he remained for six months. He lived and painted at The Abbey Arts Centre in New Barnet, London, along with artists Leonard French, James Gleeson, Peter Benjamin Graham, Douglas Green, Stacha Halpern, Grahame King and Inge King. In November 1948, Klippel, Gleeson and the young Lucian Freud exhibited together in London. André Breton, the originator of Surrealism, arranged for Klippel’s work to be exhibited in Paris the following year.
He spent a year in Paris where he attended lectures by Jiddu Krishnamurti. This strengthened a lifelong interest in Eastern religion and philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zen. After 18 months in Paris, Klippel returned to Australia in 1950.
In 1957 he sailed to the United States, living in New York . He taught sculpture at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) from 1958 to 1962 and returned to New York until 1963. He then returned to Sydney, where he remained until his death. He taught at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education from 1975 to 1979.
In 1988 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his services to art.
He died in Sydney on his 81st birthday, 19 June 2001.