synthetic polymer paint on plywood
123.5 × 244.5 × 5cm
Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of anonymous donors, 1993
Robert Hunter’s white-on-white paintings encourage close observation. Like looking through a bleached-out kaleidoscope, their subtle gradations of tone shift with changing light conditions and the movement of the viewer, making them very difficult to reproduce photographically. The almost immaterial luminescence of Hunter’s painting is borne of the work’s very materiality. Thin washes of ordinary house paint are applied to the plywood surface with a roller, their varied accumulation creating differences in hue and substance that respond to the play of light. The composition of intersecting squares, rectangles and diamonds is marked out with masking tape in a pre-determined schema, repeated with slight variations in all Hunter’s paintings.
Hunter has pursued a consistent approach with his white paintings since 1968, when he was included in The Field exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Signalling a new direction, this exhibition highlighted a group of artists interested in colour-field painting and minimalism. Hunter has single-mindedly followed the direction he took in 1968, working within minimalist strictures to produce a series of paintings that are more than they seem. In his use of paint rollers, standardised plywood sheets and Weathershield house paint Hunter employs the everyday materials of a tradesman; even their compositional structure is based on the six pockets of a pool table. Yet they are created in a process similar to the making of a Buddhist mandala – the methodical application of pigment in a pre-determined geometric design. In their almost ungraspable appearance, fading from and emerging into view, they are akin to a meditative process of detachment, in which the rhythm of the unseen breath becomes the focus of thought.
Hunter’s tightly controlled exercise in restraint conjures with the idea of transcendence and the experience of impermanence as our eyes adjust to perceiving the barely perceptible changes in tone. Using the mundane materials of the building site, Hunter bodies forth something that appears to come from nothing, prompting active contemplation of the painting’s evanescent surface and a probing of the limits of sensation.
I want to make something alien – alien to myself. I want to produce something that is neutral – if it is neutral enough it just is. I suppose that these are questions about existence. If something is to exist simply then all symbols and associations have to be eliminated.
Robert Hunter, 1971
Born 1947, Melbourne. Lived and worked Melbourne. Died 2014, Melbourne.
Hunter’s first paintings were exhibited in 1967 in Perth and Melbourne. Later that year that he began to paint his signature white paintings, failing to find any emotional content or message in colour. For more than three decades Hunter maintained a singular line of enquiry in his practice, involving diagonal, vertical and horizontal geometric formations. While Hunter’s work has been described as a visual manifestation of the spiritual, the artist himself has stated that it is simply a case of ‘what you see is what you get’.
Hunter exhibited widely both within Australia and internationally. Key exhibitions include solo shows at the seminal, avant-garde Melbourne gallery Pinacotheca from 1970–96; Eight Contemporary Artists, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1974); The Field, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (1976); Minimal Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (1976); Meridian, MCA, Sydney (2002); Fieldwork: Australian Art 1968–2002, Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2003); and Less is More, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2012). Hunter’s work is held in all major public collections within Australia.Learn more