PRO HART was without doubt the most enigmatic figure in Australian art of the late twentieth century. The proposition that an individual could be considered a near genius by some, be recognised and loved by millions, yet scorned, derided or at best ignored by expert opinion was the constant contradiction that marked his life. His works can be found in more Australian homes and collections than any other artist, yet are almost entirely unrepresented in the major galleries at state and national level.
Nearly a decade after his death he remains the most recognisable and popular Australian artist, the subject of hundreds of newspaper and magazine stories, TV shows and advertisements. He is however remarkably absent from the fine art media, critical reviews and journals of record. Can one be described as being 'without a doubt the greatest artist in our nation's history', yet also be considered a 'parish pump incompetent', meretricious and a charlatan? That is the paradox of Pro Hart. To be an artist, a one-man industry turning over more than one million dollars a year, yet fly beneath the radar of serious art.
He was not alone in that odd corner of the art world, yet he was the extreme and most obvious example. How that situation arose and what it says about Australian art, society and culture is the story to be told.
About the Author
Gavin Fry is a well-known art historian and gallery director, who is currently director of the Newcastle Art Gallery and an author of several books on other Australian artists, including Sidney Nolan, Donald Friend, Albert Tucker and Margaret Woodward.