Cover image of the review
Robert Hunter, *Untitled no. 6 (for Carl)*, 1985.

Robert Hunter

30 Nov 2019
27 Apr - 26 Aug 2018

His hair is brushed forward in a modish style that matches with his woollen turtleneck jumper. He stares into the camera lens with an expression that is difficult to describe—neutral, serious, handsome, vacant, boyish, bewildered; it is not quite any of these. When this photograph of the twenty-one-year-old Robert Hunter appeared in the catalogue for The Field, the 1968 exhibition that inaugurated the National Gallery of Victoria’s St Kilda Road premises, it was not accompanied by any images of his artwork. This absence was due, the catalogue explains, to the photographically unreproducible interplay of whites and off-whites in Hunter’s work. Immediately, The Field was identified as a key episode in the history of modernism in Australia, and the near invisibility of its youngest contributor’s artwork was part of its narrative.

The exhibition, simultaneously, inscribed itself in the story of Hunter’s art. It launched him onto the national stage, introducing his art to a wider audience. But the full significance of The Field to Hunter’s art would become clear only later. For the next forty-five years, Hunter persisted with the same aesthetic agenda—Hunter’s friend and fellow Field participant Robert Rooney once called him a ‘one-idea artist’—that had guided his contribution to the 1968 exhibition. While the work of other artists in The Field evolved, Hunter stuck to his distinctive brand of ghostly minimalism. This ghostliness arose from the visual liminality of Hunter’s art, but also, perhaps, from the lingering presence in his art of The Field, in the form of a memory or after-image. The artist’s image, furthermore, continues to be identified with the exhibition, as seen in a 2002 screen-print by Scott Redford featuring a blown-up reproduction of Hunter’s Field portrait accompanied by the words ‘spiritual australia’ in pink Helvetica. Hunter’s place in the national art-historical imagination is contingent, it would seem, on his status as the poster-boy for the so-called ‘Field generation’.

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