Important Australian + International Fine Art
4 May 2022


born 1930

oil and collage on plywood (diptych)

153.0 x 229.0 cm (overall)

signed and dated lower right: 1967 audette
signed, dated and inscribed with title on right panel verso: the Jugglers 1967 / audette
signed, dated and inscribed with title on left panel verso: the jugglers 1967 / Audette / oil on plywood / with collage (a few pieces)
extensively inscribed with title and signed verso: Audette / A63

$120,000 – $160,000
Sold for $184,091 (inc. BP) in Auction 69 - 4 May 2022, Sydney

Private collection, Melbourne


Heathcote, C., Adams, B., Vaughan, G., & Grant, K., Yvonne Audette: Paintings and Drawings 1949 – 2003, Macmillan, Melbourne, 2003, pl. 116, pp. 184 – 185 (illus.), 247

Catalogue text

Unlike many Australian artists in the 1950s, Yvonne Audette took the unusual step, when choosing to travel abroad to further her career, of deciding on New York rather than London.1 Even when she later settled in Europe, it was Florence and later Milan, rather than Paris, that was to become her home. While these two important choices convey the young artist’s independence of mind and willingness to chart her own path, they were to also have a significant impact on the development of her practice. Audette’s introduction to Abstract Expressionism, and particularly, to its very different manifestations in the work of Willem de Kooning and Bradley Walker Tomlin, enabled her to find her own path – somewhere between the two, and to ‘balance out [her] own approach’.2 The work of the artists that Audette was exposed to over these years (including, importantly, Cy Twombly in Italy), encouraged her to loosen up and to experiment; leading to the development of her own visual language, which masterfully combined the freedom of de Kooning’s mark making, the more controlled approach of Tomlin, and Twombly’s characteristic graffiti-like style. As Audette has recalled of this time:

‘It was for me a learning experience – I was excited how images were painted out and worked over, reworked over and over – the courage to destroy in order to get something better, closer to what one wants to express. The ability to manipulate paint and seeing the energy this way of working produces in the painting. The importance given to gestural, spontaneous brushwork, acting as the very meaning of the work in itself. All this is very important to me and always will be, it is my way of working, the very act of painting being the content.’3

While Audette had returned to Australia a few times while living abroad and had maintained loose ties with the local art world, coming home to Sydney in 1966 essentially meant starting again, with the artist trying to find her place in what was, comparatively, a fledgling abstract scene. Audette held her first exhibition on home soil in 1968, showing her paintings and works on paper alongside sculptor Robert Klippel in Paddington’s Bonython Gallery (with Klippel showing upstairs and Audette in the larger ground floor space) – the same year that the National Gallery of Victoria launched its new St Kilda Road premises with The Field – a landmark exhibition heralding the arrival of a new generation of Australian abstractionists. Things were changing. However, despite the new-found prominence of Colour Field and Minimalist painting introduced by The Field, Audette continued her own form of abstraction unabated.

Like many of the artist’s works of this period, the palette of The Jugglers has undergone a dramatic transformation in response to Audette’s reintroduction to Australia’s shimmering, intense light. Gelato-coloured shapes float on the surface of the works’ two panels, bobbing to the top or receding in a meditative cycle; captivating the viewer just as a juggler does when tossing and catching three or more objects. While the calligraphic marks of earlier paintings remain, they are joined and softened here by a loose community of circles, squares and interlinked hoops that joyfully dance across the work’s light and airy surface.

The ‘jitterbug-ing union of collage and paint’ that we experience in The Jugglers also results from Audette’s use of a technique she adopted from de Kooning, where she would drop cut shapes onto a work as a way to discover new motifs.4 To this end, collage served as a liberating tool across her career, presenting unexpected imaginative and formal possibilities. As she has explained:

‘…I found paper collage flexible and well suited to my temperament – the experience of physically cutting pieces of paper, moving them around freely, fixing them, and sometimes working over and building up the actual surface in relief form, akin to some sculptural processes. Over many years, collage has allowed my imagination to take wings and free me from habit-forming patterns of the mind and spirit. A new range of visual associations could always be discovered and a new range of spatial and surface tensions experienced.’5

1. As Kirsty Grant acknowledges, Audette’s decision to travel to the United States was prompted by her American-born parents’ offer of financial support if she went to the US rather than elsewhere. Grant, K., ‘Introduction’, Yvonne Audette: Different Directions 1954 – 1966, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007, n.p.
2. ibid., n.p
3. Audette is speaking specifically of the experience of visiting de Kooning’s studio here, but it applies more broadly to the way in which she absorbed artistic influences during this period. Grant, K. ‘Interview’, Yvonne Audette: Different Directions 1954-1966, n.p
4. Gellatly, K., Constructions in Colour: The Work of Yvonne Audette 1950s-1960s, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2000, p. 11
5. McIntyre, A., Contemporary Australian Collage and its Origins, Craftsman House, Sydney, pp. 68-69


Recently, a talented young artist walked past a painting by Yvonne Audette in Melbourne’s Victorian Arts Centre – he back-tracked and stood in front of it in awed silence. It was a “visual tapestry” he said. He was right. Audette is one of those rare artists whose paintings have what can only be called “visual arrest”.

The secret of Audette’s paintings is that they are not of something but about something. In the case of her large and previously unseen diptych painting The Jugglers, completed in her studio in Sydney’s Rose Bay in 1967, it is about her assorted recollections of seeing the performances of various jugglers – she always thought them “wonderful”. 1The way things were tossed about with dexterity, the swirling colours, the almost magical way objects seemed to hang in air and the space that was defined by arcs of revolving movements – all their whirling qualities captivated her artistic attention.

It’s not well-known that Audette’s analogical way of thinking and her refined artistic alertness owe something to the French art movement called Art Informel (Art without Form) that was current in Paris (the city of “non-stop ideas”, she calls it) and later in central Europe from the early Fifties to the late Sixties. The term denotes a free and open-ended formlessness in painting with a strong leaning towards the use of mental responsiveness and a manual spontaneity that rested upon the artistic potential of shapes, textures and colours that successively suggested themselves or sprang up as unforeseen consequences of other preceding pictorial elements. It is a pictorial construct within which painted forms and colours were seen to “bounce off” each other in an internalised cause and effect “conversation” on the surface plane of the canvas.

Art Informel might be instructively considered as a type of consequentialism in paint, where the effect of one thing gave rise to another that is then artistically judged by its visual qualities or textures, and so on throughout the painting – think of a saxophonist “riffing” off the sound of the horn of a passing car. Its rousing theory, with its air of responsive immediacy and artistic freedom, was first outlined by the French art critic and curator Michel Tapié (a close relative of Toulouse Lautrec) in his book Un art autre (Another Art) published in Paris in 1952. Its text elaborates upon the ideas in his short catalogue for Jackson Pollock’s first solo exhibition in Paris at the Studio Paul Facchetti in the March of the same year. After the horrors of World War II and after hearing Miles Davis’s resounding Bebop Jazz during his famous 1949 tour, Paris’s intelligentsia was ready for Abstraction, for free-form Jazz and for Pollock and the jaunty pulse of his abstract paintings.

Subsequently, there is a wonderfully casual turned-up collar type of shuffling “gait” that may be sensed in the improvisational abstract paintings of many avant-garde artists during those free-thinking early days of “French Cool” – they included Alberto Burri, Asger Jorn, Enrico Donati, Antoni Tapiés, Georges Mathieu, Viera da Silva (who arranged a solo exhibition and wrote Letters of Introduction for Audette), Pierre Alchinsky, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hartung, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Victor Vasarely (whose catchcry “being able to wander through the space of a painting” impressed Audette), Nicolas de Staël and, of course, Yvonne Audette, the “foreign talent”, who came to know many of them personally.

It is worth making a much-overlooked observation: the remarkable fact is that Audette felt the reverberations of the early growth of both American Abstraction Expressionism in New York and Art Informel in Paris at first hand. After the vibrancy of her experiences in America and her ten exhibitions in Europe (Milan, 1958; Florence, 1958; Florence, 1959; Paris, 1959; Paris, 1961; Florence, 1963; Milan, 1964; London, 1964; Rome, 1965, Rome, 1966) Audette’s return to Sydney in 1966 was clouded over by what she calls “intellectual loneliness” - those who remember those times will sense the leaden weight of those words. However, to her lasting credit she continued to cling to what she had found both artistically convincing and aesthetically stimulating in Paris, Milan, Florence and London. Nonetheless, for Audette, the return to her native Sydney heralded a time of solitary endeavour. Her painting The Jugglers of 1967 was created during that intense period of concentrated consolidation.

One must add that this directed concentration was partly supplemented by the spirited new ideas discussed at the NSW Contemporary Art Society and those that were written about in the regular NSW Broadsheet publications in Sydney. She felt for the pulse and vital signs of the time: Audette is Australia’s first female Abstractionist and the first to successfully fuse the spirit of Art Informel with the verve of Abstract Expressionism.

During this invigorating period, Audette’s abstract paintings developed a pronounced visual variety that arose from an internally dictated and unregimented response to her immediate surroundings and the manual processes of her paintings. She claims that her creative interest and activity during this timeframe enabled her to create paintings that moved beyond “calligraphy, which is a form of writing, to that of forms and colours in and out of space, just as a juggler does with objects”. The aesthetic aim, most especially in the present painting, was to “create a movement of objects portrayed by colour and forms to dance back and forth in a space of light”. 2

Audette’s sophisticated painting, The Jugglers of 1967, is a prime example of her use of a new pictorial vocabulary; one whose flashing flows of forms and colours were suggested by feelings that arose from observed events of rich visual interest – by simple everyday things of perceivable wonder; perceptions that, when condensed and captured in paint, might embody the head-turning beauty of visual arrest.


1 Conversation with the artist – 23 February 2022.
2. ibid.