Stanislaus Rapotec, a leading Australian painter since the Sixties when he was an exponent of "abstract expressionism", was a "big" artist in more ways than one. He obtained several Australian prizes, was made a member of the Order of Australia, his works are to be found in galleries and collections from Sydney to the Vatican Modern Gallery of Religious Art, yet he had never had any formal training, and never fitted into any school or establishment.
Born in 1913 of Slovene parents in Trieste, he grew up in Ljubljana from 1918, when Slovenia was united with the other south Slav lands in the new state of Yugoslavia. After his military service in Sarajevo, he read economics in Zagreb, where he was active in student politics, at inter- Yugoslav level, and in the International Students Federation. From 1939, he worked for a bank in Split, where he also took up painting.
After taking part as a reserve subaltern in the short April 1941 campaign that followed the German invasion, he made his way back to Split, where an embryo organisation of Yugoslav-minded patriots sent him to contact the Yugoslav government that had gone into exile and the Allies.
Rapotec had been brought up in the spirit of Yugoslav unity; he had friends of various political leanings, in Split, in Ljubljana, in Zagreb, in Sarajevo, in Belgrade. Through one-time student contacts and former brother officers who had now joined the army of the "Independent State of Croatia", with the cover of a Red Cross delegate, he made his way to Istanbul. He was taken to Jerusalem to meet Julian Amery (the future Lord Amery of Lustleigh) of the British Special Operations Executive.
He was soon selected for one of the missions sent by the Yugoslav military and SOE into occupied Yugoslavia. In January 1942, he was landed on the Adriatic coast; in July, he was back in the Near East. For a while he was feared lost, as he made his way from Split to Mostar, thence to Zagreb where he stayed for two and a half months before journeying on to Belgrade, and out to Turkey - hunted by the Germans.
During that time, he had met representatives of General Mihailovic, local Chetnik armed groups in the Italian zone, Croat and Slovene politicians, young Croatian army officers, surviving Serbs and Jews in Zagreb, and he had had long meetings with Archbishop Stepinac.
His detailed reports were lucid and unprejudiced, but, although he knew more about what was happening in partitioned and occupied Yugoslavia in 1942 than most people in the Allied camp, what he said appears not to have been to the liking of those to whom he reported. Most of the intelligence brought out by him was probably (and unfortunately) not passed on to London, but kept in Cairo by Yugoslavs and British there.
Rapotec continued to serve with the Yugoslav battalion in the Near East. After the war, he emigrated to Australia, where he took up painting. In 1955 he moved from Adelaide to Sydney, where he began to develop his bold, large, abstract expressions of myths, rituals and architectural forms. From the Fifties his works were exhibited also in London, Paris and Rome, and in the United States.
Rapotec was a big man, full of life, with a booming voice, and an infectious laugh. He made and kept friends, not only among painters - with British admirals, wartime Slovene and Serb brother officers of the Yugoslav army, poets, opera singers. The years of his marriage were a happy period of shared enthusiasms, when he found inspiration for his famous cathedrals series in visits to Europe, as well as all sorts of solid and unadorned artefacts for the 1830s Double Bay house that had become the Rapotec home.
Following the death of his wife, Andree, he came to spend more and more time travelling and painting in Europe. From an Alpine village on the Austrian side of the border, he looked at his native Slovenia.
In February 1995, he suffered a heavy stroke, from which he never recovered. "To become an artist, you must have a life rich with experience, a strong desire to express yourself, a will strong enough to carry out this desire, and . . . talent," he once said.Reuse content