Gunter Christmann (1936-2013)
Gunter Christmann arrived in Melbourne from Berlin in 1959. He and partner Jenny Christmann soon moved to Sydney and set up a small live-in studio opposite the National Art School.
They quickly became local fixtures of the Darlinghurst streetscape. Christmann’s self-directed attitude led him to reject traditional forms of arts training, preferring to draw from music, art, literature and locality to inform his practice. Christmann divided his focus across various mediums including sound work, abstract painting and drawing. The iconic ‘sprinkle’ paintings such as Smoke Green, 1971 are amongst some of the most prominent works within the artist’s oeuvre.
Following his inclusion in NGV’s exhibition The Field in 1968, he staged a solo show at Central Street Gallery, Sydney in 1969 selling works to state galleries, the National Gallery of Australia and writer Patrick White1. This cemented Christmann as an integral figure of Sydney’s abstract expressionist movement and in 1971 he was chosen to represent Australia at the XI Biennale Sao Paulo alongside David Aspden.
That same year the philanthropist John Kaldor invited the renowned Swiss curator Harald Szeemann to Australia with the intention to curate a show drawn from the avant garde artists he encountered. In a 14 day whirlwind tour Szeemann managed astoundingly to meet more than 70 artists. The curator selected three of the ten works Christmann exhibited at the Paddington gallery 33 Hargraves Street (which included Smoke Green, 1971) for the critically acclaimed group show ‘I want to leave a nice well done child’ held at Bonython Galleries, Sydney and later at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
The paintings from around this period strongly resonated with art critics including Elwyn Lynn who wrote an essay on the powerful presence of Christmann’s lyrical abstractions:
‘The feelings embodied in his work are of the ‘not-quite’ or ‘kinship’ order: they are not quite about joyousness, melancholy, release, hesitancy or shyness; they are akin to expansive ease or cautious confrontation. They embody notions of a veiled life of oblique and subtle suggestions and of a tremulous untroubled uncertainty. Smoke Green, 1971 requires time and contemplation, the unfocused nature of the sprinkled paint encourages the eyes to dance around the canvas – the ephemeral effect is hypnotic and
mesmerizing. This work is an enduring legacy of an artist’s lifetime meditation on painting.
1. Gunter Christmann obituary | Simon Barney, ‘Gunter Christmann
1936-2013’, Art Monthly, Issue 267, March 2014, p. 62
2. Elwyn Lynn, ‘Gunter Christmann’, in Art and Australia, vol. 10, no. 3,
January 1973, p. 250