'Lou wants me to be painted in an open-necked shirt' , I
A dark plot of artist and subject is already hatching.
By telephone, I have foreshadowed that I shall bring some robes. No
problem there. Robes are always amongst the little pleasures of a
lawyer and a judge. At the very mention of robes of bright crimson,
Judy’s interest is at once engaged. 'Well bring them then. We may
out-vote him' . I knew immediately that an opened-necked portrait would
have to wait until another time. The sight of all that crimson and silk
would do the trick. What I lacked in personality and visage, the robe
would more than compensate: dazzling the observer with uniquely
reproduced silk of crimson - so soft and shimmering that you could
almost touch it.
I laid my offerings before the artist. First, the austere
black robes of the High Court of Australia. This American invention of
republican modesty was immediately cast to one side. Judy's nimble
fingers fell upon the other offerings. The crimson robes edged in fur
(it's supposed to be ermine, but it's actually rabbit) of my old days
as President of the Court of Appeal. 'But that's the past'. She moves
on. The light crimson silk of the Court of Criminal Appeal. 'Also the
past'. She tarried over the silken grey hood worn over that relic of the
judges' links with medieval Bishops of England. The blood of executed
prisoners, the critics used to say, was the colour of the robes of the
judges of the criminal justice.
'This is it,' she exclaimed. Picking up my doctoral
university robe, Judy Cassab had found her setting. Honorary Doctor of
laws. Delicate pastel blue, softening the brilliant red. Not so
overwhelming as the judicial scarlets. Perhaps this moderation could
satisfy Lou Klepac. This will be just about as informal as we get.
'We will simply over-rule him. This is a democracy of
three;' exclaimed Judy. Now there would be no turning back. Doctoral
robes it was to be. And so, with swift efficiency, the serious business
of portraiture began.
I was placed on a chair. Not too close, she explained. But
no too far away. And then to work on a blank canvas. Her 'Rolls Royce'
as she calls it, springs to life - the machine that lifts and lowers the
canvas mechanically. 'A little more noisy than the Rolls Royce.' I
thought. But a deep breath and a sigh from Judy and we were at work. I
sat there looking at the artist. She with her brushes and paints,
staring intently at her subject and darting back and forth to the
canvas. I felt a need to keep quiet during the awesome work of
converting the outward semblance of a human physiognomy to strokes of
oil and colour. But in no way would Judy Cassab have this. Other
artists may want it so. but Judy explained ' your personality exists at
the end of my brush. Every word you say comes through my ears and
through my mind down to my hands and onto the tip of the brush. I cannot
explain how it happens. But that is how it is, with me.'
We talked of art and creativity, of music and the world of
the spirit. I told her that another middle European, Gustav Mahler, had
once tried to explain his creative spark. For him it was something
external to himself. It was not something he could fully articulate or
rationalise. For him, it was as if some external force was moving his
hand as he put the immortal notes on paper. That is also how it is with
Judy Cassab. The same seemingly external force directing the hand to
convert a blank canvas into a sea of colour and vivid impressions. my
eye wandered to a drawing of a remarkably beautiful woman - Judy Casab's
grandmother - sailing into my field of vision. Above her grandmother
appeared a sketch of a teacher, the artist Hermann, from far away in
Budapest in another age. My eyes darted from artist to easel from
palette to the assembled paints. On and on we talked as she worked with
fierce energy and concentration.
The experience of being a subject for Judy Cassab AO CBE
is one to be cherished. There are certain rules which are to be
faithfully observed by the subject. The subject must talk. Laughter must
lighten any solemn hints of immortality on canvas. The light must
fall on the subjects face from the same angle and at the same angle on
recurring days. An hour of solid work passes. And then there is the
ceremony of morning tea. Exquisite cups and exotic cakes and biscuits
refresh the artist as she turns away form her labours. The subject joins
in. The subject is not allowed the slightest peep at this stage. Not
until the last stroke of the day is concluded in the second part of the
sitting. Often at this stage Judy Cassab invites the scrutiny of her
'sternest critic' - her husband Jancsi. There is an anxious look as she
awaits his approval or suggestions. This done, and encouraging words
uttered, it is back to work. The interval in this concert of paint is
Now Judy's glasses are adjusted. The intelligent stare is
resumed. We are back to talking and painting with renewed energy.
After a further hour is up, Judy Cassab glances at her
watch. It is as if an automatic chronometer rings an alarm in her head.
The session is over for that day. At the end of the first session, one
can see the outline of the composition and mottled face already showing
the bone structure and angles dimly recalled by the subject from the
morning mirror. In the second session, Judy begins her 'ping pong'.
Backwards and forwards she darts. Rough estimates of size and proportion
are taken. She laughs about a Molnar cartoon reproduced on the studio
wall. This shows her, with her brushes rampant, as she is in mid-flight.
The game of artistic ping -pong is an extraordinary manoeuvre to watch.
Yet by this game the broad outline of the face and the hands of the
subject takes on a recognisable form, as if by magic.
In this way the attempt to transmit human appearance and
personality comes to life through the skills of this considerable
painter. The recurring sessions stamp a form and order on the
encounters. When they are up, it leaves a void which the subject ( and I
suspect, the artist) views with sadness. Judy Cassab talks with love
and generosity about other artists and what she has learned from them.
She combines formidable discipline with artistic flair that is hard to
explain in mere words. For Judy Cassab, it is necessary to turn the work
to the wall between sittings so that it can be attacked afresh with new
energy and boundless enthusiasm. And she tells me with shimmering belief,
at the end, the last strokes are added by God.
What a joy it has been to know Judy Cassab as a Friend.
What a privilege it is to have been a subject of the Artist.