Print | Close
print friendly page for http://australianetwork.com/nexus/stories/s2024001.htm
28 November 2008
REPORTER: To the outsider, it was a curious sight - a Rolls-Royce hammering along the dusty roads of outback New South Wales.
PRO HART: Corrugated roads are a nuisance, aren't they? They're rough as guts.
REPORTER: At the wheel was world-acclaimed artist Pro Hart. The four Rollers he owned weren't so much a boast of his success but rather another expression of his unconventional life.
PRO HART: I just come out and start painting any time. If you woke me up at three in the morning, I'd just start painting. It's there all the time - inspiration's there all the time. I paint a lot of pictures that I know will never sell, but I still paint them because I believe that's... If you've got a gift and you get inspiration, you gotta...you paint it.
REPORTER: And paint he did, portraying on canvas all that he saw around him. When asked what he painted, he once simply answered, "Aussies doing things."
PRO HART: I think it's things that people don't see and there's a lot of humour in it. You get the people going out on a yabby picnic and they take a big heap of grog with them, they get on the turps, fall in the river and all sorts of terrible things. Well, I'd paint them, you see?
REPORTER: From his early childhood on a sheep station near Menindee on the Darling River, Kevin Charles Hart was an artist. While being schooled by correspondence, he was asked to write essays. Instead, he would return drawings.
PRO HART: I didn't know anything about art when I started because we had a sheep station and there wasn't any art books and I didn't know any artists and I just started drawing and painting, and it just kicked off like that.
REPORTER: At 19, he entered the mines in Broken Hill - a workplace he admitted he found terrifying. In the knockabout ethos of the mine, he used his sketches to break down the tension.
REPORTER: Had me spies out. And on the weekend, all the blokes would play up. You know, they'd be falling over and getting into fights, crashing cars, whatever they do. And then on the Monday, I'd have all the drawings up on the wall.
REPORTER: But all the time he was mining, Pro Hart was trying to make a living as an artist. When he wasn't in his studio, he went door-to-door asking anyone if they would buy or display his works.
JACK ABSALOM: Raylee, his wife, used to walk the streets, try to promote his postcards to get them into shops and that sort of thing. And then a very important thing happened - a Kym Bonython came to Broken Hill.
REPORTER: Kym Bonython was an art patron and gallery owner from Adelaide who was in the Silver City for an exhibition. He asked to meet the artist whose work he saw all around the city.
KYM BONYTHON: I said, "Why do they call you 'Pro'?" And he said, "Oh, short for 'Professor' because all me mates in the mines reckon I'm a bloody know-all."
REPORTER: Although he disliked being known as a bush artist, it was his portrayal of the outback that struck a popular chord. While his paintings were an instant hit with buyers, the critics weren't always impressed.
PRO HART: Oh, hang the critics. I don't worry about them. I couldn't care less about... It all works out. I got a bloke up top looking after me, so I don't worry.
REPORTER: Pro Hart's strong opinions on politics and religion were regularly expressed in his work.
PRO HART: Coming up now, this is another one of 'The Holy Tower'. All these people lined up looking for God. You see they're going through the streets. And there's the old bishop trying to get closer to God with his doctrines and all that. Really, it is true. It doesn't get people any closer to God. They... It just gets their eyes off Christ. That's why I painted it.
REPORTER: The artist subscribed to conspiracy theories and he had little time for republicans, unionists or environmentalists. Although he did paint occasionally overseas, Pro Hart rarely left the city that provided so much of his inspiration. In return, he gave back to Broken Hill.
JACK ABSALOM: Nobody would've ever gone to Pro asking for help - some way to raise money for new uniforms for the kids or the old folks' home or anything - that he wouldn't give them a piece of his art. In the 1970s, Pro Hart joined four other artists from the Silver City to form the Brushmen of the Bush - a group whose exhibitions raised millions for charity. Even though crippled by motor neurone disease late in life, Pro Hart continued working up until his final year, leaving an extraordinary body of work.
PRO HART: I've been fortunate that the average person in the street has liked my work, you know? That's just... Well, that's just lucky, I s'pose, you know?