Born in Trieste (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) in 1913, Stanislaus Rapotec grew up in Slovenia. After serving in the Middle East during World War II, he migrated to Australia in 1948, settling in Sydney in 1955 after a period in Adelaide. During the 1960s, he gained recognition as a pioneer of the abstract expressionist movement in Australia. He made a significant contribution to the Sydney art scene and was a vital member of the important ‘Sydney Nine’ group of abstract artists.
An artist without formal training, Rapotec claimed it was the places he visited - the monasteries, churches and cathedrals of Europe, and the sites of early Christian culture that he encountered while travelling through the Middle East - that served as his art school. While he was not a man of faith, these places inspired an understanding of the capacity of great art to inspire awe and instil a sense of spiritual grandeur. During the 1960s he combined the inspirations drawn from these sites with his growing interest in the work of the New York action painters. ‘Meditating on Good Friday’ is a climactic painting produced during this period indicative of his powerful spiritually-charged gestural abstraction.
In ‘Meditating on Good Friday’ Rapotec transposes the violent drama of the Good Friday narrative that follows the crucifixion of Christ in the Christian faith into a solemn, existential expression of grief and despair. It is, as Robert Hughes described in 1961, a work of brutal power. With its gestural brushwork masking the vitalist formations beneath, the work not only encapsulates the themes of tortuous suffering and mourning associated with Good Friday, but also provides underlying suggestions of redemption and regeneration that may emerge from trauma. A manifestation of deep, turbulent emotion, the artist implies feelings whose magnitude are not easily contained in figurative or narrative form, but are instead unleashed in the overwhelming gestures of abstracted expression.
'Meditating on Good Friday' was awarded the prestigious Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1961. It caused considerable controversy as the first entirely non-figurative work to win the prize, with some taking offence at the absence of religious iconography. The awarding of the prize furthered the debate surrounding the place of abstraction in representing ecclesiastical themes, and invigorating the possibilities of representing notions of the religious and a modern sense of spirituality.
triptych: oil on board
183 x 412 cm overall
Signature & date
Signed and Dated l.r.,oil "Rapotec 61"
Purchased with funds provided by the Gleeson O'Keefe Foundation 2016
© Stanislaus Rapotec Estate
Shown in 8 exhibitions
Blake Prize for Religious Art (1961), Commonwealth Bank, Martin Place, Sydney, 1961–1961
unknown, Macquarie University, 1971–1983
The Blake Prize for Religious Art - the first twenty five years - A survey, Monash University Gallery, Clayton, 18 Apr 1984–23 May 1984
Images of Religion in Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne, 1988–1988
Federation: Australian art and society 1901-2001, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 08 Dec 2000–11 Feb 2001
O Soul O Spirit O Fire: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, 23 Nov 2001–24 Feb 2002
New Worlds - 1950s-60s Abstraction, Benalla Art Gallery, Australia, Aug 2002–Aug 2002
Vibrant Matter, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, 20 Apr 2013–16 Jun 2013
Referenced in 16 publications
Denise Mimmocchi, Look, 'Stanislaus Rapotec: Meditating on Good Friday 1961', pg. 28-29, Sydney, May 2017-Jun 2017, 28-29 (colour illus.).
Encyclopedia of Australian art, Melbourne, 1968, illus. 337.
The Bulletin, 'Strength of Purpose', 26 May 1962, 56. Exhibition review by Bill Hannan
The art of Australia, Melbourne, 1970, 284. plate 118
The years of hope: Australian art and criticism 1959-1968, Melbourne, 1981, 76-80; illus. 86.
Modern Painters 1931-1970, 1970. plate 64
The Blake Prize for Religious Art - the first twenty five years - A survey, Melbourne, 1984, 13-14.
Images of Religion in Australian Art, Sydney, 1988, 17, 86.
Federation: Australian art and society 1901-2001, Canberra, 2000, 208-09.
Stanislav Rapotec: a Barbarogenius in Australian Art, Belgrade, 2007, illus. 147.
Australian art: a history, Carlton, 2013. plate 375
The Observer, 'Capricious Juries', 04 Mar 1961, 18. Article by Bill Hannan
Masterpieces of Australian Art, Melbourne, 1969, illus. 83 (in reverse). plate 83 (in reverse)
Antipodean vision, Melbourne, 1962.
Meanjin, 'Avant Garde Pinting in Sydney', Sep 1961. Article by Elwyn Lynn