In the early 1990s builders refurbishing the Town of Mosman Park Council buildings simply took eight bas relief panels by Robert Juniper specifically created for the council chambers and threw them out with the builders’ rubble. Having been left outside overnight, the works were recognised by Councillor Graham Emery the next morning who immediately tried to confirm the origin of the unsigned works. It seems the Mayor of the day voiced his distaste for the works more than once, and wanted them replaced, but quickly back tracked when news of their value was established. Fortunately the works were damaged but not broken and later re hung in the Chambers.
Using moulds, Robert Juniper created the works in the mid 1960s using fibrous plaster, sand and found objects, including those from old mine sites in the Goldfields. During the process of its overnight foray some of the objects attached to the work were lost.
Only one other work using the same medium has been created during his long career and remains in a private collection. Juniper had not seen the works since 1965 when he helped to hang them, and was enthused at the prospect of restoring them, immediately setting to work creating new objects, and working at speed to restore the works which were delivered two at a time to his Hills studio.
Juniper was philosophical about the works being thrown away, recalling a continuous long painting which wrapped around three sides of the walls of the National Bank in Perth which he also eventually restored after holes were cut into it to accommodate air conditioning ducts. “They were terribly embarrassed about it,” said Robert, “and asked that I not mention it to anyone.” The work is now part of the collection of the Art Gallery of WA.
No Council record remains of the cost of the 1960s commission, and Robert himself cannot recall the price, but before restoration the works were valued at $160,000.
Robert said he was approached about the commission by the architect of the building, his friend Marshall Clifton (1903-1975). “His daughter was a practising artist, so that is how we would have met. It was in the days when architects had to beg to have art included in their work because no one really wanted it. He asked me to do it on a shoestring, otherwise it wouldn’t be approved. I distinctly remember hanging the works with Marshall, as the works were still wet and very heavy. Marshall, who was not a young man at the time, struggled as we tried to put them in place.”
Clifton belonged to an age of architects who believed a strong knowledge of art history an architecture essential, as well as practical artistic skills. A self- taught watercolour artist, he favoured modern architecture more suited to the Australian climate, such as Mediterranean styles, rather than slavishly following English traditions.
At the time Juniper was working at Hale School without the luxury of a studio. “The kitchen table was my studio. We had four children, and my wife at the time was working as a journalist, so I was chief cook as she usually arrived home late – I don’t think I was too bad at it! The table would be cleared for meals, before becoming a studio again. I created the works for the Town of Mosman Park in the backyard.”
He found inspiration for the work seeing an advertisement for Olivetti Typewriters which had used sand imprinted with hand marks and objects set in a mould. “With Mosman Park being near the sea and the river I wanted the works to look like the river floor.” While some objects were embedded into the work when it was wet, others were attached to the surface. Embellished copper, broken china, and small tiles from a coffee table his wife happened to be making at the time, found their way into the work, with mythical fish-like creatures cut from copper sheets underlining the maritime theme.
Of the restoration Juniper said many curators would disagree with adding to the work, believing its originality and authenticity is compromised. “I believe I am adding new thought to the work,” he said. The artist found his collection of found objects from the era to add to the work, such as shells, old ink wells and fish bones. “I was tempted to add part of an old Emu beer bottle, but I didn’t think it was appropriate.” And, taking no chances the works will be thrown out in the future, the previously unsigned works each now have copper plaque embossed with the artist’s name securely screwed onto the front.
Moving each work required a team of six people, with some at high ladder level, who carefully lowered the work to the ground level team who then placed the work on cradles, especially produced by exhibition designer Francis Chiffings to exactly fit the works and minimise handling.
The project has been documented by local filmmaker Lee Kennedy, with the short film being available to local residents and groups for special showings in the council chambers with the newly-restored works. The film is expected to be available for showing by November this year, just prior to the artist’s eightieth birthday in January 2009.
Town of Mosman Park Mayor Ron Norris said he was honoured and delighted to have the work of State Living Treasure Robert Juniper within the council chambers. He paid tribute to the council of the day which had the vision to approve the commission of the work which would have been a very innovative decision. Norris said, “when this occurred in the early 1960s it would have been most unusual for councils to support such a project.” The restoration project of River Bed
was managed by Lyn DiCiero.
ARTIST’S CHRONICLE JANUARY EDITION 2013
one of its finest and enduring artists when Robert Juniper passed away on 20 December at the age of 83. Twice winner of the Wynne Prize, in 1976 and 1980, he was Citizen of the Year in 1979, was the only artist to be a Festival of Perth artist twice, in 1979 and 1999, and was presented with an Honorary Doctorate from the University of WA. Valued beyond the visual arts arena as well, he was named a State Living Treasure in 1998. In 2004 he was awarded the prestigious medal for Services to Art from the Painters and Sculptors Association of Australia. He received the Centenary Medal of Australia in 2003, and an Order of Australia in 2011.
He was the only artist to be awarded the title of Honorary Artist by the Art Gallery of WA, for his generosity of giving. His work is in every state collection in Australia, including the NGA in Canberra.
His major commissions included murals for the National Bank and the ABC, and eight bas relief panels for the Town of Mosman Park council chambers. The panels, created in 1965, were inadvertently thrown out during renovations, and restored by the artist in 2008. He also tackled set design for the West Australian Ballet and the Playhouse Theatre. The sound of Classic FM radio was a constant presence in his studio.
Wife Patricia Juniper said a small private funeral was held on Christmas eve as per the artist’s wishes, with a public memorial service to be held at a date yet to be arranged. “I can’t believe he’s not here with me, because I feel him here every day,” she said.
The two met in 1982 in the UK and kept in touch, marrying ten years ago. “We were together most of every day. He was just so easy to be with, a delight to live and work with, and his sense of humour was brilliant. He never demanded anything, or expected anything, like some men do, so subsequently I could give him everything. He loved meeting people and never gave up. In the last ten years, even though he’d had a stroke he had thirteen solo exhibitions. One year he had three. There was also a book coinciding with his eightieth birthday, an Order of Australia, and the massive project of designing window walls at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Bunbury.”
She said although she knew his end was near, nothing prepares you for the reality. “I didn’t sleep properly for three months. It could take weeks, months, or the rest of my life to get over it. I’ll never forget the part of my life I was privileged to share with him.”
ARTIST’S CHRONICLE MARCH EDITION 2013
HUNDREDS gathered at Winthrop Hall for the invitation-only memorial service for Robert Juniper. Attendees included the Governor, Malcolm McCusker, wife Tonia, and the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of the University of WA. Tributes flowed for the 83 year-old artist, who passed away on 20 December after an illness, and was buried at Karrakatta after a private funeral.
Alan Dodge, former Director of the Art Gallery of WA, presided over the service as Master of Ceremonies. Dodge said he first met Juniper in the lead-up to a 1999 retrospective of his work at AGWA, and recalled many memorable lunch meetings at the John Forrest Tavern, a short drive from the artist’s home. “If anyone knows Bob, they’ll know his lunch was always liquid. He knew everyone there. I think it was his second home.”
Renowned Sydney-based artist John Olsen sent a message for his mate, which was read by Deputy Director of AGWA, Gary Dufour. The two first met in the mid-1970s, with Juniper initially critical of his abstract style, but over a few beers, they became firm friends. In his tribute, Olsen called him “Mr Irreplaceable.”
Acknowledging Juniper’s love of classical music and opera, the ninety-minute service included performances by his ‘band,’ the Juniper Chamber Quartet who reunited for the occasion. Michael Lewis OAM, Head of Classical Music at WAPA and Organist of St Georges Cathedral, sang a work from Verdi’s Rigoletto, accompanied by Stewart Smith on piano.
Speakers included The Hon John Day, Minister for Culture & The Arts, once a student of Juniper at Guildford Grammar, Dr Stefano Carboni, Director of AGWA, and former gallery director Marlene Stafford, who said Juniper’s greatest joy was to confront the easel.
ABC Radio presenter Peter Holland, a mate of 40 years, said he spoke as a representative of the community of Mundaring which he and Juniper shared. Holland said he was a “man’s man,” remembering once seeing the artist with a pair of bolt cutters, off to rescue one of his beloved dogs from the pound. “His sense of himself was solid as a block of stone, but there was always the delightful hint of the naughty boy. He went through hard times with predictable dignity. It’s certainly hard to get it into your head he’s actually gone.”
Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury Cathedral, the site of the artist’s last major commission, said Juniper had told him that without his wife Trish, his art career would have finished a long time ago. Holland also underlined her valuable contribution to the last years of his life, saying she was a wife truly loved by her husband.
The service began with a Welcome to Country by Dr Richard Walley and concluded with a performance by Stephen ‘Baamba’ Albert, who sang Bran Nue Dae and Red Sails in the Sunset, a song he said Juniper remembered his mother singing.
Baamba said because Juniper usually dressed in black and wore his customary stetson, they used to call him “The Duke.” With Juniper’s black hat resting on a plinth, and a larger-than-life portrait displayed on the stage by Nigel Hewitt, winner of the 2010 People’s Choice at the Black Swan Portrait Prize, you couldn’t help but think “The Duke” was indeed presiding over proceedings, his parched lips curling at the thought of a drink or three with friends and family at the after-gathering.