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— Yvonne Audette

Yvonne Audette

Audette is one of the two or three greatest abstract painters Australia has produced; perhaps the very finest. But even saying this, I am aware that no one country ‘produced’ her wonderful paintings. Like any highly intelligent creative artist, she has had the quickness of foot to learn from the growing points of culture all round the world. Into her vitamin-enriched paintings have gone diverse elements of the European abstract tradition, along with other strands from American expressionism. Even Velázquez has played his part – when he was needed. Yet the result is not some uncertain mélange but an idiom that is entirely her own.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe, 2014[1]

[Audette’s] artistic economy was global before the invention of the term.

Bruce James, 2000[2]


Yvonne Audette is one of very few Australian-born artists to have lived, worked and exhibited amidst the American and European avant-garde period of the 1950s and 60s. Her lyrical and layered canvases – composed using a personal language of marks and symbols inspired by her urban and natural surrounds as well as music – have made her one of the country’s most renowned abstractionists.

Born in Sydney in 1930, Audette studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music before beginning her art studies under Henry Gibbons and John Passmore at the Julian Ashton School (1948-1952). Passmore was an adherent of Cezanne’s post-impressionist and post-cubist principles, and his profound influence is visible in her early figurative works.

In 1952, Audette left Sydney for Europe via the USA where she stayed for 3 years, pursuing further studies at the New York Arts Students’ League and the National Academy of Design’s School of Fine Arts. It was in this city that she first became a part of the changing course in Western Art, getting to know the art critic Clement Greenberg and some of ‘The New York School’ of artists – including Robert Motherwell, Theodoros Stamos and Franz Kline. She was also influenced by the works of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Mark Tobey, amongst others. Coming to identify herself as an ‘Abstract Expressionist’, Audette was at this time using brushes, palette knives and viscous pigment to produce loose and spontaneous canvases with broad, expressive marks and gestural scrapes.

In 1955 Audette continued on to Europe. During her time in Spain the works of Goya and Velasquez inspired a return to and experiments with figuration, resulting in a series of portraits of peasants, gypsies and refugees on paper and on canvas. By December 1955 she was in Italy, setting up her first studio in Florence and in 1968 a second studio in Milan, the city where she met Italian artists Arnaldo Pomodoro, Lucio Fontana and Emilio Vedova, American artist Cy Twombly, and Australian artist Norma Redpath. Working between the two cities, Audette continued her investigations into abstraction but in relation to place; the American origins of her work were influenced by the European Art Informel movement as well as her interest in the marks and textures of Florence and Milan’s graffitied walls. This is evident in her paintings of the time; using plywood as a support, she applied graffiti-like marks and symbols in a lighter, layered and more lyrical manner, a method she likened to composing music. 

During her decade in Europe, Audette held exhibitions almost every year. Her first solo exhibition in Italy was at Florence’s Galleria Numero in 1958, followed the same year by a sell-out exhibition at Milan’s Galleria Schettini. She exhibited again at Florence’s Galleria Numero in 1959 and ’63, then at Milan’s Gallery Profili in 1964. Her 1959 Paris debut was held at the Gallery L’Antipoete, where she exhibited again in ’61; in London at the Hamilton Gallery in 1964; and in Rome at Galleria Schneider in 1965, followed by a second exhibition in ’66, after which she decided to return to Australia.

Audette’s move back to her home town of Sydney in 1966 was primarily a move “Away from the spirits of those old [European] cultures”.[3] She also spoke of “the call of [Australia’s] soil”,[4] where “one has perhaps a better perspective” enabling “independence of thought and spirit”.[5] In her first exhibition back in Australia – at Sydney’s Bonython Gallery in 1968 (with Robert Klippel) – she exhibited a total of sixty-three paintings and works on paper produced both in Italy and during her time back in Australia.

In late 1969 Audette moved to Melbourne, where she settled permanently. Finding a home and setting up studio in the Dandenong Ranges – about 35km east of the city and away from its galleries and art community – she lived and worked there until 2013. Here she was able to immerse herself in nature and concentrate on expressing it in her practice; “I needed the stillness and silence of the landscape and the closeness of the wildlife … to experience my outer space and my inner space”.[6]

Throughout the decades, Audette often referred back to her earlier work, including major paintings she had shipped home from New York and Europe and were generously stored by Robert Klippel. Acting like a diary, they provided a constant source of reflection and inspiration. The Cantata paintings, for instance, began in the 1960s and continued well into the new millennium to form a major series of work.

Audette has been the subject of multiple survey exhibitions including Yvonne Audette: Abstract Paintings 1950-1960s at Queensland Art Gallery in 1999, Constructions in Colour: the work of Yvonne Audette 1950s-1960s at Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2000, Different Directions 1954-1966 at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2007-2008 and Yvonne Audette: six decades of painting at the University of Melbourne’s Ian Potter Museum of Art in 2009. The major monograph Yvonne Audette: Paintings and Drawing 1949-2003 – featuring texts written by Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Christopher Heathcote, Bruce Adams, Gerard Vaughan and Kirsty Grant – was published in 2003.

Apparently … lying dormant in the storehouse of the memory, images and sensations are decanted and purified, until no vestige of contact with the immediacy of objective reality remains. Recalled to the canvas surface, they have become delicate but nevertheless unfaltering images of wholly interior experience … endowed with intense evocative power.[7]

Gariboldo Marussi, Galleria Schneider, Rome (catalogue), 1965

Perhaps the closest analogy with her art is the palimpsest, for both are an accretion of written shapes on a surface stirring with the ghosts of earlier writings vanquished by time, or by deliberate, though imperfect, erasure. These phantoms flicker palely among the living signs and there are many degrees of fading.[8]

James Gleeson, The Sun-Herald (review), 25 February 1968.


[1] C Heathcote, B Adams, G Vaughan & K Grant, Yvonne Audette: Paintings and Drawings 1949-2003, MacMillan Publishing, 2003, Preface.

[2] B James, ‘The possibilities of Yvonne Audette’ in K Gellatly (ed), Constructions in Colour: The Work of Yvonne Audette, 1950s-1960s (catalogue), Heide MoMA, 2000.

[3] Audette, in L Thomas, ‘The mainstream of self’, The Australian, 1968.

[4] Audette, in S Hall, ‘Art is a Language’, TheBulletin, 1968.

[5] Audette, in L Thomas, The Australian, 1968.

[6] Audette, in L Thomas, The Australian, 1968.

[7] G Marussi, Yvonne Audette, Galleria Schneider, Rome, (catalogue) 22 April – 10 May 1965.

[8] J Gleeson, ‘Elating Shaking Audette’, The Sydney Sun Herald, Sydney, 25 February 1968.

Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.