Robert Clinch

Clinch Spartacus 2013
Spartacus by Robert Clinch


Robert Clinch
egg tempera on panel
107 x 105 cm
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From Van Diemen's Land to the MCG, Images of Hobart Town to Melbourne Now, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, 29 June - 10 August 2013

Fanfare for the Common Man, Art Gallery of Ballarat, 13 July - 8 Sep 2013 & touring to Wollongong City Gallery, 2013

Sounds of Silence: Robert Clinch, The National Museum of Szcezecin, Poland, 2014

Further Information

Spartacus, the escapee gladiator slave, forcibly evaded re-capture, and became the accidental leader of a two-year slave rebellion against the mighty Roman Empire. He has been seen ever since, as a hero for the disenfranchised, and an unassuming but unshakable voice for freedom.

Spartacusis the third and final, of a series of three major pendant paintings; heralding the rights of every one of us, to believe in, and pursue our dreams.

In each of these three paintings, the artist’s children are the protagonists in a scene where endeavours close to their hearts are the theme. Although the figure is small, they are significant in the composition; as, maybe we all are, in the scheme of things.

In The Grand Reading Room, 1998 (commissioned by the Potter Museum, The University of Melbourne) his daughter, Jean, is the thirteen year-old on the stairs from childhood to adolescence; transported to another world by the book in her hands. She is engrossed with the magic of the words she reads, and unaware of the giant dome of the Latrobe Reading Room of the State Library of Victoria looming above her in the background.

In Fanfare for the Common Man, 2003 (the title for Clinch’s retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery Ballarat, 2013), his then seventeen year-old son, Allan, is the trombone player. Rising way above our lowly vantage point, he blows his mighty message to us all, from the derelict but appropriate brewery tower, in industrial inner-city Melbourne.

The young man about to drop-punt the ‘Sherrin’ in Spartacus, 2013, is the artist’s 23 year-old son, Stephen. He stands at the far end of the typical bluestone laneway, perhaps the beginning career of many a star in the towering colosseum; the MCG, dominate in the distant sky.

These are three major egg-tempera paintings of identical dimensions; three different ages in the artist’s three children’s growing awareness of their hopes and aspirations; and three different aspects of the culture that embraces them.

Spartacus 2013, being the most recent work in the exhibition, brings us back to where we began, being a pendant to The Grand Reading Room of 1998 and Fanfare for the Common Man of 2003. Each considers aspects of human endeavour, in literature, music and sport. …

Spartacus embraces sport and the notion that we can all aspire to being sporting heroes. Again the vertical scale of the work gives a sense of the monumental, enshrined in the background stadium, based on the ‘new’ Northern Stand of the Melbourne Cricket Ground where Australian Rules Football is played. Clinch presents the great sporting arena as the contemporary counterpart of the Coliseum of old where Spartacus and his fellow slaves to Roman might have fought gladiatorial games. While Spartacus was one of the leaders in a major uprising against the Roman Republic and is nowadays a hero of freedom from oppression, Clinch sees him as the everyman who became a hero, allied to the right of everyone to do what they want to. And in this, Australian football, he believes, is the most democratic of all ball sports. The figure is his now much older son Stephen in the jumper of the Essendon Football Club, ready to pass the football to the viewer. “

Robert Clinch: Fanfare for the Common Man, Art Gallery of Ballarat, 2013, p.72


Robert Clinch in conversation with Julie Collett- exhibition Curator:
Fanfare for the Common Man.

We’re sitting here looking at your most recent work, Spartacus, How long did it take to complete?

A painting this size usually takes around a year to do, but for one reason and another, Spartacushas taken considerably longer. It is a pendant to Fanfare for the Common Manand The Grand Reading Room, The protagonists in each of the three paintings are my three children – the youngest, Stephen, is the sitter for Spartacus. The first time that he sat for me was in an early painting called Gateway. …

How did you come up with the title?

Spartacus was as escape gladiator-slave. He became the unintentional leader of a slave rebellion, which took two years and the full weight of Rome’s military might to quash. Because slavery was the engine of the Roman Empire, they made an example of Spartacus by crucifying one thousand of the rebel slaves along the Appian Way. So Spartacus is the pin-up boy of the proletariat, the hero of the powerless rising against those who oppress them. So the painting shares some context with Fanfare for the Common Manand The Grand Reading Room, with its great ‘library for all the people’. And intergral to this is my daughter Jean’s love of literature, my older son Allan’s love of music and Stephen’s love of sport. I have him in front of the modern coliseum, the MCG, kicking a football to the viewer in an inner-city laneway.

Your use of colour in these three paintings is very similar…

You’ll notice that these three paintings are intentionally very similar in their palette. The enveloping red brick walls express warmth. Their nest-like composition conveys a sense of the world embracing these small figures. I am expressing to my children an assurance that the world is on their side. The tone is intentionally bright and positive.”

Robert Clinch: Fanfare for the Common Man, Art Gallery of Ballarat, 2013, p. 86


The interview by Julie Collett is quite lengthy and can be read further in the book Robert Clinch: Fanfare for the Common Man, which can be purchased through Lauraine Diggins Fine Art here.