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Emanuel RAFT (b.1938; d.2016) -  ABSTRACT

Emanuel RAFT (b.1938; d.2016)

Emanuel Raft was born Emanuel Raftopoulos in Suez on the 7th of February 1938. As a child, his Italian-Egyptian mother taught him Italian, and his Greek-Egyptian father spoke to him in Greek. He completed his secondary education at the British School, where he was first encouraged to draw and paint. *

As Egypt descended into trouble ahead of the Suez and Sinai conflicts, his father happily accepted a transfer to the Sydney affiliate of his telecommunications company. The Raftopoulos family emigrated to Sydney in January 1956, just before Emanuel turned eighteen. Although Raft expressed an interest in developing his passion for art, his father was determined that his son should enter a profession and the agreed compromise between them was for Raft to study architecture at the University of Sydney. * However, Raft surreptitiously enrolled as a part-time student at the Bissietta Art School where he studied from 1956 to 1959.**

In mid-1959, Raft left Sydney and sailed for Europe. He studied sculpture at the Brera Academy in Milan, with Luciano Minguzzi from 1959 to 1960. ** Philippa Wilkins, who had been a fellow student in Sydney and would herself become a prominent fibre artist, joined Raft in Milan in late 1959 and, in 1960, they travelled on to Paris and London.*

Returning to Sydney in 1960 with Philippa, Raft worked as an industrial designer. In his spare time, he began to establish himself as an artist, painting unnerving, bleached bone-like forms surrounded by a funereal gloom that he scarred and seared with a blowtorch. He also began to make what he called “wearable sculptures” and included pieces of his jewellery in his early exhibitions of paintings. * From 1963 to 1966 he lectured at the School of Architecture, University of Sydney.

In 1966, Raft left for England. In 1966, he taught at Croydon College of Art, London, and from 1967 to 1969, he lectured at the Birmingham College of Art and Design. ** Even whilst abroad, his significance in the Australian art world grew. In 1968, the National Gallery of Victoria mounted the controversial exhibition of hard-edge abstraction works, The Field. It included two of Raft's tall Monolith sculptures whose brooding black areas were invigorated by tidy, narrow stripes of pulsating colour. *

In 1969, Philippa and Raft separated. * Raft accepted an invitation to travel to the US and exhibited his wearable objects in New York. He returned to London in 1970 and, throughout the 1970s, he would represent Britain in jewellery exhibitions. In 1975, Raft married Helen Thaw, owner of a Knightsbridge fashion and design business called Sids, after they met at a party in London. He recalled that “she was wearing a beautiful Ossie Clarke/Celia Birtwell dress that was held together by a collection of six great enamelled butterfly pins.” *

In 1978, Raft and Helen and Helen's three children returned to Australia. He joked about England having “too much rising damp for me.” * In 1981, Raft accepted a full-time academic position at the Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education (now UNSW Art and Design). By the time he retired in June 1996 as a senior lecturer, he had not only lectured in painting, but had served as head of sculpture and had developed design as a discipline within the college. He also lectured part-time at the School of Architecture, University of Sydney. **

Raft was a resident at the Cite International des Art, Paris, in both 1984 and 1989. Whilst there, he collaborated with master technicians and produced a series of splendid lithographs at the Atelier Champfleury, Paris. In 1992, Raft established a studio in Flaugnac, Lot in south-west France and he and Helen lived between Sydney and France until Helen's sudden death in April 2008, just a few days before their combined 70th birthday party. ***

In 2010, Raft began a romantic partnership with Sylvia Ross, head of the School of Art at the College of Fine Arts, Sydney. They were married a few weeks before he died. She shared his background in jewellery, sculpture and two-dimensional art forms.

Although the original works included in The Field exhibition of 1968 were later lost in the Black Thursday fires that consumed Kym Bonython’s Adelaide Hills home, Raft agreed to remake these works for the 50th anniversary re-staging of The Field exhibition to be held in 2018. * These were his last works created during the time he was ill in 2016. He completed them with the help of fellow artist David Eastwood who painted the final paint layers of the sculptures in Raft’s studio in 2017 after Raft’s death in Sydney in May 2016. ** These works were later acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria.

Raft’s first solo exhibitions were held at Barry Stern Galleries, Sydney, and Douglas Gallery, Brisbane, in 1962. He exhibited at Paddington's Hungry Horse Gallery (later Lucio’s restaurant) in 1964. He had two works exhibited in the avant-garde The Field exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria’s new premises in 1968. In 1970, he exhibited at the fourth Mildura Sculpture Triennial. Over his career, Raft held more than thirty solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions of jewellery, paintings and sculpture throughout Australia as well as in the UK, the US, Greece, the Netherlands and France. ** A survey exhibition of Raft’s work, Poetry, Alchemy and Geometry, was held at Newcastle Regional Art Gallery in 2007.**

In 1964, Raft was awarded the Young Contemporaries Art Prize, the Freedom from Hunger Art Prize and the Royal Agricultural Society Prize. A monograph on his work, Emanuel Raft, Painting, Jewellery, Sculpture & Printmaking, was published in 1997. *

Emanuel Raft's significance as an artist was that he practised, with an unusual excellence, across an abnormally wide number of disciplines, excelling in painting, drawing, jewellery, sculpture and printmaking. Peter Pinson notes, in his monograph, that his capacity to work across a wide spread of disciplines has been equalled by few artists in our time. ***

Throughout his career, his work swung, pendulum like, between romanticism/expressionism and classicism/formality and between exuberant painterliness and cool calculation but, notes Pinson: “it has generally been underpinned by a sharp sense of design and a commitment to fine proportion.”

His early work included the “tall, puritan and austere monoliths” included in The Field exhibition. ** Pinson also notes that Raft's jewellery was as bold and as handsomely untidy as the best work of the Sydney abstract expressionists. *

However, in his paintings since the 1990s, Pinson comments: “he has achieved the delicate but dynamic balance between feeling and reason, between passion and proportional poise, the subject he had been confronting for three-and-a-half decades”. ***

Raft’s works are held in Collections across Australia, including the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, Parliament House and many other state and regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia as well as in the UK.


* Obituary: Emanuel Raft, gifted artist over range of disciplines, Peter Pinson, 31 May 2016, Sydney Morning Herald ** Emanuel Raft, The Field Revisited Artwork Labels pp 13, 14 and 126, The National Gallery of Victoria, 2018 *** Emanuel Raft. Painting. Jewellery. Sculpture. Printmaking, Peter Pinson, 1997


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