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Gunter Christmann: Now and Then is the first exhibition to survey the fifty-year career of this remarkable Australian artist. It includes sound works, photographs and drawings alongside his paintings, and traces the evolution of his major themes and series, from the geometric and constructivist abstracts, splatter and shaker box paintings through to his sensitive figure studies, silhouette paintings and landscapes.
At the time of his death in 2013, Gunter Christmann was gathering anew the type of critical and public attention that surrounded his striking debut as an artist in the 1960s. Painting for himself rather than the market throughout his long career, he moved easily between personal subjects and themes with universal qualities, finding a congenial truce between his European sensibility and an affection for the intimacies of his Sydney locale.
Christmann left his native Germany and arrived in Australia via Canada in 1959. He started painting three years later. Though he studied briefly at the East Sydney Technical College his practice was almost entirely self-directed, with interests in international art, music and literature operating alongside the influences of street culture in the inner-Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst.
By his own account, it was from the European tradition of geometric abstraction—Mondrian, Max Bill, Vantongerloo—that he first took his cue. A participant in the National Gallery of Victoria’s landmark ‘The Field’ exhibition in 1968, he presented works which were among the more lyrical of the purely abstract paintings on show, revealing a sensuality of surface, instinct for colour and form and reference to literary themes that would continue to characterise his work over the years to come.
After 1970 Christmann made a conscious shift to ‘let the painting find its own order’, and an alternating balance between abstract and figurative modes followed, unified by close observation of the world around him. His German past and life with artist Jenny Christmann contributed rich narrative material, and the lively and ongoing appeal of politics, current affairs and the activities of the mind made his work a type of diary, making connections between ideas and objects. ‘There must be power and attractiveness to galvanise the viewer’, he said. ‘In dialogue with people a successful work of art is a world without end’.
Purchase the catalogue
This 80 page full colour catalogue was published to accompany the exhibition and features essay contributions by Lesley Harding and Simon Barney.