Iconic Australian artists. The phrase makes me think of idyllic portrayals of pastoralism, of golden fleeces suffused with sunlight, frontier settlers framed by eucalypt trees and the blue haze of a never-ending landscape. There are also the confronting depictions rendered by more contemporary artists. Of men and women, communities and their profound connection to the lands beyond the mountains. The bush. This fortnightly series examines some of my favourite artists. Enjoy.
Pro Hart – A legend of the land and the canvas. Pro Hart was not only a legendary outback artist; through his work he was also a powerful advocate for rural Australia. His paintings capture the profound connection that many Australians have forged with the bush and the communities that call it home.
Born Kevin Charles Hart, Pro Hart grew up on a sheep station, 130km from the isolated outback town of Broken Hill. It was there he began to sketch and paint. Like many members of the Broken Hill community at the time, Pro went on to become a miner, mining for Zinc and Lead. He continued to pursue his art and many of his paintings were influenced by this particular period of his life, drawing inspiration from the landscapes and characters he encountered while working in the mines. His work is an anecdotal account of a life spent living in a remote Australian town and a reflection of the experiences many individuals encounter living in the bush.
Theres no denying that Pro Harts depiction of the Australian landscape and the people who toiled alongside it has helped shape the history of Broken Hill. His artwork encapsulates the inherent sense of community of bush towns. His paintings capture local race meets, picnics and pubs, all forming a narrative of what it was like living in the outback at that time.
Personally, I love Pros earthiness and his realistic portrayal of bush life. Its not romanticised, it depicts real life in rural Australia.
This 1980s oil painting of a Country Race Meeting is one of my favourites. It embraces all the racing characters, with the addition of his signature satire and realistic point of view. Just when you think youve noticed all the intricacies in this painting, something else captures your eye and you see it in a totally different light.
Pro Harts techniques were quirky compared to other artists, which may have contributed to him being shirked by some in the art world. He liked to do things differently; he wasnt constrained by conventional methods, and constantly experimented with technique. Pro paved the way for performance art, which incorporated uncanny ways of painting, such as shooting it from cannons and dropping it from air balloons. Perhaps you remember the iconic 80s advertisement for Stainmaster Carpet, a fabulous example of his out-there techniques and individual approach to art.
Even at the height of his successful career, Pro Hart maintained his down-to-earth persona, preferring the company of his mates than the celebrities he often rubbed shoulders with. Perhaps this unpretentiousness is the reason why so many Aussies can relate to both him and his work.
While he may have never made it into the upper echelons of the art world, theres no denying the huge contribution Pro Hart made to Australias artistic landscape. His biography sums him up perfectly, he collected Rolls Royces, Rembrandts and Picassos, but loved Chinese takeaways and a cup of tea. He was a humble Aussie bloke who contributed greatly to our country through his representations of rural Australia and its people.