Stacha Halpern would spring into his painting with an energy and vigour that didn’t cease until they were completed. They leave an indelible impression in one’s mind and irrespective of the feeling towards them – they are not easy to forget.
He lived and worked in France for 15 years and developed a reputation as a significant painter. He is considered to be the only Australian artist to make a real contribution to European art and regularly exhibited in solo and group shows in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Florence. Mark Rothko, Philip Guston and Helen Frankenthaler were some of those he exhibited alongside and he was represented by the prestigious Galerie Blumenthal in Rue Du Faubourg St Honoure.
A witty and generous man he entertained many of the young Australian painters visiting Europe including Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, John Olsen, Brett Whiteley, Jan Senbergs and Len French. The welcome mat was always out at the Halpern home and many enjoyed his hospitality and friendship.
He returned to Australia in 1966 but the reception he received was disappointing. Those that he entertained and made welcome in France were not reciprocal when he returned to Australia.
The differences between the followers of abstraction and the Antipodean group was still topical and though he had a successful career in France, the Australian public wasn’t ready for an expatriate whose images seemed to have a foot in both camps – figurative with the antipodeans and abstract expressionist with the others.
His lack of sensation was also linked to his brief exposure to the Australian market which was explained by his contemporary Stan Rapotec upon being referred to as an overnight success “…. I firmly and strongly believe now, that to build up an artist in any field you need twenty years of struggle – struggling, battling, performing, experimenting, exercising and, yes, exposing oneself in one’s work to the full brunt of criticism.”
Stacha Halpern had achieved prominence and success over the fifteen years he lived and worked in France, but that didn’t count in Australia, he had to start all over again to receive the accolades he was due. Unfortunately he died through heart disease in 1969, three years after his return.
Halpern’s position and effect in the International art scene of the 60’s is finally being respected in Australia as his work becomes better known and appreciated across a better informed public.