Nice man dies

I love cliches, and there aren’t many better than “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like“. It just so happens that for me it’s a true statement (and no doubt for many others as well, that being how cliches become cliched). I like Dobell and Whitely and Albert Tucker. I even like Norman Lindsay and his big ripe nudes. Of course, that’s a terribly unfashionable taste to confess, but I don’t like Ken Done either, so that’s something. Then again, I hate most of John Olsen’s stuff too.

But I do like Pro Hart, or at least quite a bit of his work anyway. However, not knowing enough about art to pen a decent eulogy (as I just said), I’ve been forced to steal the one below from an excellent art blog called The Art Life that I’ve just discovered. I hope they don’t mind.

“Death for the famous seems to come in batches. First it was Harry Seidler, then Stanislaw Lem and now Pro Hart. Although Seidler is a lot more famous and influential than Hart, it’s the brushman of the bush who gets a state funeral in Broken Hill next Tuesday.

Hart, aged 77 and suffering from motor neuron disease, went into rapid decline after a diagnosis late last year and passed away after his family decided to stop giving him his medication. David Hart, the son of the late painter, told NineMSN that the Hart family was “tickled pink” when Morris Iemma offered to stage the funeral in the artist’s home town. Eulogies for Hart have tended to centre on the more fun loving, generous aspects of Pro Hart and the rousing story of his slow acceptance from outsider status to someone with qualified support within the art establishment. As a number of TV reports stated, Hart’s work is held but not hung by the National Gallery of Australia, for example, but his paintings are in plenty of other major collections – including various state and regional galleries. His famous carpet ad which showed the artist as an eccentric boho who used everything from a chocolate cake to a blunderbuss to make his paintings on the floor spawned the immortal line “Oh Mr. Hart! What a mess!”

What hasn’t been reported was Hart’s politics. When Harry Seidler died his life as a refugee from Germany was duly reported, as was Seidler’s own unfortunate youthful enthusiasm for the aesthetics of the Nazis. It was a revealing and interesting insight into Seidler’s personal history and development, but perhaps everyone has forgotten then that Pro Hart, while a charming duffer, held extreme right political views. It was a paranoid view which claimed among other things – that a Zionist Occupation Government 1 is vying for the control of Australia and the United States, either via the United Nations or through “international banking”. ZOG and its various conspiracy theory derivatives are a rank form of neo-Nazism.

We once had the opportunity to discuss Hart’s politics with a few people who had met him a documentary film maker who had spent time with Hart and a dealer in Sydney who took work on commission from Hart’s well organised Broken Hill gallery. Both claimed he was a “nice man” but politics was a subject best avoided. The dealer preferred not to engage with Hart politically, but rather saw their trade as a pragmatic money-making venture. The documentary maker told us that Hart’s family were deeply embarrassed by “dad’s politics” and have done their best to keep knowledge of it under wraps. It certainly makes you wonder whether Premier Iemma was aware of it when giving the man the State funeral he so richly deserves.


Speaking of trade, Philips Fine Arts sent out a curious email last week advising clients that their stock of Pro Hart works would soon be rising in cost due to a price hike by Pro Hart Art Sales, the company run by Pro’s son John Hart:

Due to the recent announcement by John Hart, Managing Director, Pro Hart Art Sales advising that Pro Hart is no longer painting due to ill health, the Gallery has been given notification by Pro Hart Art Sales that effective immediately all Pro Hart’s in the Gallery will be subjected to an approximate 10% increase (with the exception of Masks and Flannels). In order for the Gallery to accommodate this changeover in pricing we will honour the current price of works on our website until Sunday, 26 March. Any work purchased between now and Sunday can be purchased at the current price BUT your letter of authenticity and valuation will reflect a 10% increase in value.

We really regret not taking more notice of the email had we done so our Pro Hart originals would 10 per cent more valuable.”

  1. read “jews”[]
  2. KP: In fact, Hart’s son John said to George Negus in an ABC interview a couple of years ago: “Dad’s views are very much set in the 1950s and reflect the fears that people had back then of Australia potentially being invaded from the north. And he loves a good conspiracy theory. But a lot of his political thinking’s actually formed a basis of lots of his paintings.”[]

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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harry clarke
18 years ago

I liked Pro Hart’s paintings and also thought he was a great Australian. I am sure he was not a Neo-Nazi.

You borrow the post – which is OK – but retain the link that connects him with being a Neo-Nazi. The link actually goes to a wiki on zionism that has nothing to do with Hart. And what does the reference to Siedler’s Nazi past have to do with Pro Hart’s politics? Isn’t that kind of disgraceful smear-by-assiociation.

What evidence is offered by the original poster? What an awful way to smear Pro Hart’s memory. Shouldn’t you be a bit more careful about repeating these claims.

harry clarke
18 years ago

You repeat the claim that Hart was a neo-Nazi and bolster this by mention Siedler’s nazi past and a link to neo-nazism (on zionism) which has zilich to do with Hart. Guilt by association? Is this what one would call a smear?

I liked Hart’s work and don’t believe he was a neo-Nazi. The left disliked him because he opposed gun control and supported Pauline Hanson. That does not make him a Nazi.

Jason Soon
18 years ago

I liked Pro hart’s work too. His politics don’t negate that.

But everything what Ken specifically claimed are that
1) Pro Hart held extreme right views
2) ZOG theories are a rank form of neo-nazism

Now *if* the allegation that Pro Hart believed in ZOG theories is true, then to characterised Pro Hart as holding ‘extreme right’ views seems fair. In fact it seems like one of the nicer ways of putting things.

Proposition 2 is also irrefutably true – ZOG theories are one of the major theories behind neoNazism. This isn’t smear by association. It’s not as if Ken is saying neonazis believe in gravity and therefore anyone who believes in gravity is a nazi. Not many people believe in ZOG theories. Those who do have an almost inevitable tendency to be neonazi too.

Now you might argue it’s a necessary but not sufficient condition of being a neoNazi that you believe in this ZOG stuff. But if so, that isn’t really relevant to what Ken said. Ken didn’t actually say Pro Hart was actually an active neonazi. He said that Pro Hart believed in ZOG and this was an extreme right view, then put those ZOG views in context and left one to draw their own conclusions.

harry clarke
18 years ago

Sorry for repeat post – when I clicked on each to verify that I had made a comment the screen went blank – can’t access the webpage. I thought neither had got through.

18 years ago

There has been a lot of media talk about the art ‘establishment’ rejecting Pro for various reasons, and yet no account has raised the money grab Pro blatantly undertook. A friend of mine spent some time with Pro in his studio, watching while Pro drew up a prepared board and painted the same picture on sixteen sections of it. He had his routine and filled his weekly quota. Whacking in another sheep, he said, “that’s another hundred dollars’. That was a long while ago and last I heard he was still doing much the same until recently. At nearly 3k a pop for those little boilers, you’d expect buyers to get something even pretending to be unique. It’s not unreasonable to have expected some buyers to have been duped.

Pop-outs aside, Pro has done some inspired, unique work, for sure, and yet he maintained the same palette and two style technique showing no regard to develop beyond what he could always basically knock out.

Pro was a great character and Australia richer for his presence. But he was marketed early in his career (was it Mollison??) to a country tearing excitedly into laminex kitchens and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and having claimed the market for that Pro Hart blue gold look, no one else worth their salt except Max Mannix thought twice about doing the same thing to compete – because, indeed, it was an exercise in marketing more than anything in fine art which brought him what is regarded as his success.

While these remarks may appear critical, they are not intended to be negative. Rather, in a country quite devoid of any cultural growth at present, Pro’s strong character and sad passing sticks out like kangaroo ears above the flat, parched, empty cultural landscape we currently inhabit. Were we flourishing in cultural abundance, a state funeral I contend would have not passed mind.

Having said that, above all, and most importantly, he had fun, and perhaps that’s a good a reason as any if not the best to celebrate his life.

Nicholas Gruen
18 years ago

“a country quite devoid of any cultural growth at present”. Robert, could you expand a little more on that? It’s a big call>

18 years ago

it seems to me that the fact Pro Hart is to have a state funeral at significant public cost is a sufficient reason in my view to make it fair game to examine whether his character and conduct make him a suitable candidate for such an honour

Absolutely, Ken.

Nicholas, a brief answer to your question without mention of any specific industry except the film/tv sector which is crippled and hurting, and really just in general terms: Over the last decade the nature of Australian richness has moved clearly into pure economic references, as though anything outside of that were to present some sort of threat or peril, politically, to the incumbent government. This has a flow-on effect of constricting the arts through to the wider community, though of course there will always be patronage from some quarters, and prevents the exploration and national discussion of who and what we are in other terms. Gone, as one instance, is our aboriginality, reduced to numbed out maintenance factors rarely spoken – and yet, cruelly and paradoxically, the power of our aborginality was acknowledged in full colour in those bloody tourism ads! In that sense, our aboriginal culture has been quietened, only to be exploited as showmanship and front. I say ‘our’ aboriginality because we all have a right to explore this, as one example.

What have we found of ourselves over the last decade? Rather than exploring and nurtuing what it means or may mean to be Australian, we have found ourselves subject to national exploration of what it means to be ‘unAustralian’! What a cultural achievement! I’d go on to say we’ve explored our darker side, our cultural poverty, more than anything.

-must go, unfortunately, comment interrupted with other matters. Maybe there’s something there for you to see where I’m coming from.

-would like to mention tv/film more if poss soon.