The elder statesman of WA art, Robert Juniper, has died at the age of 83, with his bereaved wife saying she has lost her “giant”.
The two-time Wynne Prize winner was best known for his grand semi-abstract landscape paintings which redefined how we understand the country around us.
But Juniper also worked with stained glass, textiles, set designs and metal sculpture. He recently claimed as perhaps his masterwork a series of 17 stained-glass windows created over five years and installed in Bunbury’s rebuilt St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral last year.
Juniper had been intermittently unwell since a small medical procedure in October last year turned sour, causing internal bleeding in his lungs, an emergency thoracotomy and several periods in intensive care.
A partial recovery earlier this year led to a burst of creativity, including a portrait of Perth cardiologist Johan Janssen which Juniper entered in the Archibald Prize.
But Juniper’s health slumped more than a month ago and he died peacefully in his sleep at his Darlington home at 11.47pm on Thursday night while nursed by his third wife Patricia.
Ms Juniper said that her husband had touched her soul the day they met and would continue to stay with her “forever and always”.
"The man was the most talented, big-hearted big giant," she said. "He was my giant."
Ms Juniper said her husband was very charismatic and had a way of drawing people to him.
“He was generous of heart and of spirit, and he was wise and calm,” she said.
“He was the consummate gentleman and filled life with humour. He always had a joke on the end of his tongue and had a big booming laugh.”
Robert Litchfield Juniper was born in Merredin on January 21, 1929, and spent his early childhood as a “pipeline gypsy” as his father worked as an itinerant maintenance welder along the C.Y. O’Connor pipeline.
It was in Merredin that Juniper, aged six, had his first artistic success by winning a prize at the Merredin Agricultural Show for a collage of the Holy Family. Two years after that, with the Great Depression in full swing, the family went back to England.
Juniper studied commercial art and industrial design at the Beckenham School of Art in Kent. Returning to WA as an assisted migrant at the age of 20, he worked clearing land at Cowaramup before finding work at a Perth plaster moulds manufacturer and a graphic design firm, where art director John Lunghi gave him the encouragement he needed to paint for exhibition for the first time.
He taught art at Perth College and Hale School in the 1950s and at Guildford Grammar School in the 1960s.
In the late 1950s Juniper, along with Guy Grey-Smith, Brian McKay, Tom Gibbons and Maurice Stubbs, formed the Perth Group, an influential but short-lived collective devoted to promoting modernist art in WA.
In 1976, he won the prestigious Wynne Prize for landscape art at his first attempt, following up the win in 1980.
He was named a State Living Treasure in 1998, awarded a Centenary Medal of Australia in 2003 and made a Member of the Order of Australia last year. He was patron of the fundraising foundation at the Art Gallery of WA, one of the many leading Australian institutions to hold his work.
Juniper is survived by his wife Patricia and four children by his first wife Robin-Ann, Sato, Ben, Sam and Bec.
Ben and Bec also are accomplished WA artists. Juniper has 8 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The family will hold a small private funeral and a public memorial service will be held some time in the new year.