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In the first substantial survey of contemporary Australian art, Mervyn Horton's Present day art in Australia, published in 1969, Gunter Christmann's artist's comment is one the shortest. It is undoubtedly the most blunt.
'I do not care to write about art: I am a painter, I cover flat areas with paint.
Paintings are to be looked at.'
Nevertheless it says everything necessary about Christmann's attitude to painting and being an artist. For the past thirty-six years he has stuck to his guns, said very little about his work, and painted. Those who care to look have been rewarded with some of the most beautiful paintings of our time.
In 1960s Christmann's work was called abstract. Later descriptions used the terms minimalist, abstract expressionist and colourfield abstraction. All seemed correct at the time, but in retrospect the descriptions don't describe the paintings. Something else was going on in Christmann's work; something much more personal. His statement gives the clue. His career has been about being an artist and the act of painting, rather than belonging to any particular movement. He has pursued rigourously his own development and not the well-trodden path of an artist seeking success. His work has often seemed eccentric and outside the mainstream of fad and fashion. However, it always attracted a strong following among those who saw it for what it was - challenging, highly individual, and extraordinarily well painted.
Since landmark exhibitions such as The Field which marked the opening of the National Gallery of Victoria's new building in 1968, Christmann's work has been included in all significant surveys of contemporary Australian art. All public collections of contemporary Australian art include his work, and many have sufficient to show the development of his career from the late 1960s to the present day. In the 1980s the National Gallery of Australia identified Christmann as one of the most significant artists of his generation whose work was worthy of being collected in depth.
Similarly several private collectors saw the beauty of Christmann's painting. Of these Bill Burge's collection might be the most important. Paintings such as Spill, 1972, and Heavy Topscape, 1972, are among the most significant of Christmann's delicately layered and spotted paintings, once inadequately described as Minimalist. Water Tank, 1975, and Rockman, 1996, are outstanding examples of Christmann's long-standing careful observation of the world around him, which has throughout his career provided the subjects, sometimes disguised, for his paintings.
We are grateful to John McPhee for providing this catalogue entry