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Bernard Hesling

Updated on August 24, 2011

Enamel Artist 1905-1987

~Very few paintings I now own are important to anyone but me, but they still give me pleasure. Yes! Art is the one race meeting where the punter can't lose.~
- Bernard Hesling

Bernard Hesling was a British born, Australian artist (arriving here in 1928) who pioneered the use of vitreous enamels in this country. He was an innovator in design and materials, at one stage using white enamelled stove panels as a canvas for his works. In addition to his enamel work, (he also painted in conventional oils) he was a cartoonist, a writer and at one point, an art critic for the Sydney Observer. Some of his quirky book titles include:

Art Ruined my Career in Crime
Stir up This Stew
I Left my Tears in the Fridge
Little and Orphan

Prior to arriving in Australia he worked for a time in Paris as a house painter and marbler. During this period his own art work was initially influenced by the primitives, such as L├ęger, Vlaminck and Marie Laurencin, whom he met while in France...but he later developed a more complex abstract style and was greatly influenced by the vivid colours and characteristics of his adopted homeland. Hesling's work is easily identifiable as not too many artits were working in enamel and his colours and designs too, were distinctive and certainly unconventional.

While Hesling is not exactly an international house-hold name, he does have a devoted fan base of collectors and his trays and smaller tables currently sell at auction somewhere in the low thousands, though some of his large works have sold for much more..

Sixties "TV" table. Photo by Macx
Sixties "TV" table. Photo by Macx


Why do we sometimes form strong attachments to inanimate objects? The little table in the picture above is mine - my Grandmother bought it from Georges, a now defunct Melbourne department store, in the late 1950's/early 60's. The tables were designed for the new TV generation (which began in 1956 in Australia)..the tray lifts off so you can put it on your knee and enjoy dinner in front of the box. How decadent! It's an object that's always been around me and despite being incredibly attached to it, for it's history and associations as well as what I consider its beauty, for reasons that are way too dull to dwell on, I'm compelled to send it to auction next month. Oh I know, it's only a "thing"...and yet, it's a serious wrench. Still, by creating this hub, I am, in a way, retaining a connection to it.

I consider it a fine example of Hesling's work - it's both distinctly mid-20th century as well as distinctly Australian. The colours are bright but earthy, in contrast to his often garish hues. The tiny dots are reminiscent of native dot paintings and indeed, the designs do appear to be influenced by aboriginal cave drawings. Borrowing from aboriginal culture would be considered a very un-pc thing to do these days. It's unique. I sincerely hope it goes to a good home.

Inspired by aboriginal cave drawings...?
Inspired by aboriginal cave drawings...?


Joan Kerr, Dictionary of Australian Artists Online:

Powerhouse Museum:


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