Critics maul popular Aussie painter Pro Hart
By Sid Astbury Apr 9, 2006, 19:55 GMT
Sydney - In death, as in life, Outback brushman Pro Hart has fallen foul of the Australian art establishment, with the braver critics mocking his pictures as 'visual pollutants' while the more timid damn them with faint praise.
Hart, who in 1960 gave up his job as a miner to paint pictures of the people of the 'Silver City,' died last month in his New South Wales hometown of Broken Hill. He was 77 and his paintings of bush life had sold by the thousands.
'It's got to be said that they're the ugliest things you've ever seen,' leading Sydney art dealer Ray Hughes said of Hart's enormous output. 'We've sunk to such a low state of self-esteem that people have been celebrating the fact that he made a s---load of money for paintings that are totally unworthy.'
Hart was a tremendous commercial success, largely because he dashed off dozens of paintings a week over a 40-year career.
He had a stable of Rolls-Royces and a private art collection valued at 30 million Australian dollars (21 million US dollars). No Australian artist has made so much money.
Outside the art establishment, there's not a bad word to be said about a charming eccentric who embraced loony right-wing causes and came up with daft inventions he reckoned would have changed the world if greedy capitalists had not bought up the patents and stopped them going into production.
He was given a state funeral. Newspapers devoted page after page to reminiscences about Hart, his generosity, his humility and his madcap ideas.
Australians by the thousand said they treasured the canvasses that hang in their homes. Politicians, their thumbs on the popular pulse, said it was a disgrace that Hart's work had been shunned by public art galleries in Australia despite being snapped up by overseas collectors.
Peter Black, a member of parliament, is orchestrating a public campaign to pressure the National Gallery in Canberra and its state equivalents round the country to accept the popular will and hang Harts on their walls.
'If it's good enough for (Britain's) Prince Phillip to buy three of them, and it's good enough for LBJ (former US President Lyndon Baines Johnson) to hang one at the White House, it's good enough for Pro Hart to be hung at every gallery in Australia,' Black told the 1,500 mourners that attended the artist's funeral.
Some leading figures in the art world are keener to talk about the man than his work. Amanda Phillips, director of Sydney's House of Phillips Fine Art, said Hart had made a 'huge contribution to the country and touched so many people's lives; people just love him.'
In a statement released in Melbourne by the National Gallery of Victoria, there was also some delicate fence-sitting. It said Hart had a 'highly distinctive style that was admired and enjoyed by a huge number of people.' The gallery has no Harts in its collection.
As ever, internationally acclaimed art critic Robert Hughes was blunt, describing Hart's work as 'parish-pump incompetence.' Hughes, Time magazine's art expert, was kind in comparison to others.
Barry Pearce, curator of Australian art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which overlooks the harbour in Sydney, explained why Hart was not fit for exhibition.
'Artists, like musicians, composers, even poets, fit into categories,' Pearce said. 'There are major and minor artists like there are major and minor poets. Art galleries are elitist in the best sense. They try to collect the greatest artists, the ones whose works will have meaning over time.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur