15 August 1920 – 3 November 2015


Judy at work by Juno Gremes

Juno Gemes © 2013

Judy Cassab by Lou Klepac

Judy Cassab was a wonderful human being and a remarkable artist.
We became friends the moment we met in Adelaide in 1969 when I was Curator of Paintings at the Art Gallery. I took Judy to lunch and we discovered that we had many things in common. I had a Hungarian grandmother and my mother was brought up in Vienna until she was 15.
We became close friends when my family and I moved to Sydney in 1980. Judy was an instinctive painter and attacked the canvas without making preliminary drawings as a ground plan. This gave her work freedom and freshness, but sometimes she painted herself into a corner. She needed a fresh eye to look at her composition and this is where I come in. Once the problem was identified Judy finished the painting in a flash.

I loved being summoned by Judy, who dubbed me her ‘muse’. I produced two books on her portraits, and organised a large exhibition of these portraits at the S.H. Ervin Gallery. It was opened by Michael Kirby and proved to be a great success.

Judy could paint a good portrait. She not only got the likeness, but also by some clairvoyant ability she could bring to the surface what was hidden in the sitter’s soul. If someone had murdered someone, this would be revealed in the face.
If you look at Judy’s painting of Morris West, you will see that his eyes show anxiety and distress. Judy and I could not understand why the portrait revealed this, until we discovered that unbeknown to Judy, Morris West was about to have a by-pass heart operation. This explained his inner turmoil.
Judy had a unique spiritual quality, which allowed her to overcome the resentment and bitterness that so many migrants developed, when they arrived in a new land where they had to begin at the bottom, having lost everything that they had achieved in their original homeland. Judy did not have a bad bone in her body and everyone who met her, loved her. She was a generous spirit. She loved discussing art, but she also had a great sense of humour and loved jokes. Nor was she averse to tell jokes against herself.

The best of these is the incident which occurred when she first won the Archibald Prize. There was a great deal of publicity involved. One day her doorbell rang and two people appeared at the doorstep. She invited them in, sat them down, offered them coffee, thinking that they were reporters who had come to interview her. Then she realised her mistake – they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t know how she got rid of them, but it would have been done with dignity.

When Judy joined the Pens and Pencils, a small group of artist that still meets once a month, I had the great pleasure of introducing her to Nora Heysen, who was the first woman to win the Archibald Prize – back in 1938. Nora was reserved and shy and it took a while for her to thaw, but they soon got on like a house on fire, and arranged their own weekly meetings at Judy’s house where they drew from the model.

Judy kept a diary, which is much more extensive than the tip of the iceberg which has been published. We are all in there and will live forever in the pages of these volumes. She had a phenomenal memory.

I got on as well with Jansci as with Judy –for lunches at Judy’s, Jansci went to Double Bay to get the rye bread that I liked. He always came back with two loaves, one for lunch and one to give to me to take home. One day, some twenty years ago at one of these lunches, suddenly Judy came out with some reflections about human character by the Hungarian writer Ferenc Mora.

According to Mora:
If you are not innocent by the age of 10
                        beautiful by the age of 20
                        strong by the age of 30
                        brainy by the age of 40
                        rich by the age of 50
                        and a saint by the age of 60
You will NEVER be.

Thinking of this and of Judy, it occurred to me that this is a perfect portrait of Judy herself, and that we will always remember her for just these qualities: innocent, beautiful, strong, rich, and a saint.

Lou Klepac, February 2016

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