Broken Hill artist Pro Hart completed a staggering 3000 paintings a year. He painted 70,000 pictures in his lifetime. If you compare him to Russell Drysdale because the paintings are of a similar subject matter, Drysdale only painted about 350 major pictures in his career.
Nine years after his death, Hart remains one of the country’s most recognisable artists. Overlooked by the art establishment because of his crass commercialism and questionable talent – his paintings were reproduced on Qantas in-flight menus, airconditioning units and in a TV advertisement for carpet – the self-made multi-millionaire was appreciated en masse by ‘‘ordinary’’ Australians.
Regarded as the ‘‘working man’s painter’’, his work ‘‘reeked of outback authenticity”, says Gavin Fry, who spent 12 months researching and writing the book, `Pro Hart: Life & Legacy`.
Kevin Charles Hart was born in Broken Hill 90 years ago, on May 30, 1928, and spent the early part of his life on a sheep station east of Menindee. He left school at 15 and took on menial jobs. He was given the nickname ‘‘Pro’’ while employed at a soft drink factory where he enjoyed blowing things up with gelignite. The other workers dubbed him ‘‘The Professor’’ and it was eventually abbreviated. At 19, he started working at North Broken Hill Consolidated Mine and painted in his spare time. Eventually his earnings as an artist meant he could focus on painting full-time, which he did at 39.
Much more can be said about Pro Hart – but at this point I would like to highlight the role of `Christian faith` in his life – as recorded by Robert Drane in the Salvation Army magazine ` War Cry` April 11, 2009. His article is entitled `Hart and Soul `
Pro Hart’s answer was always the same when people asked him about the source of inspiration for his next painting: The Lord will show me.
Despite being considered, by many, ‘unfashionable’ in the very art world he dedicated himself to, Pro was a unique artist, who was able to conceive and render just the right image for the occasion.
His visual descriptions of what he saw as the quintessential Australia—pictures that captured the space, the light and shade, the peculiar imagery and the mystery of the outback and the bush—somehow managed to say profound and ineffable things about his country.
Anyone who has travelled this vast, complex land would understand just how difficult it is to capture its essence on canvas or page. Yet Pro managed it with a unique sensitivity and facility for gesture. But he understood that his talent served higher purposes.
Believing that his job was to get the word of God out through his art, Pro made his paintings as pure and genuine an expression of religious experience as anyone has seen.
Many artists who try to capture the idea of the holy and their own experience of it quickly become self-indulgent. Their ‘religious’ images, like those, for example, of Dali, are more a brilliant expression of their own ontology and the personal symbols that represent it than an attempt to render God comprehensible in any way.
Pro didn’t just capture Australia’s soul—he sometimes rattled around noisily inside it. What was remarkable about his career was not so much that he was despised by Australia’s precious ‘art mafia’, as the fact that he didn’t care. He was prolific and persistent, and believed in his talent and its source.
He was a quirky figure, an outsider, who taught himself to paint and came in under everyone’s radar. None of these traits ever endeared him to the art world’s cognoscenti, and he was the target of some surprisingly vehement, spiteful criticism in his time.
Yet for men and women of faith, Pro’s religious art was not seen through the cold critical eye, but rather it was felt. It went soul-deep, and this is something that cannot be claimed of many great artists, or understood by mere critics. His ceaseless attempts to create windows into the subject of spirituality, and convey something of his own conception of God, were evidence enough of the power and depth of his faith.
Without the encumbrance of words, Hart was able to make raw utterances—on canvas—of his personal religion as they were received, as nakedly and vigorously as Handel’s Messiah.”
Paintings by Pro Hart – Google images
Pro Hart Biography