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 [read “jews”] 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.
[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.”]
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.”