Broken Hill was the beloved home of eccentric self-taught artist Pro Hart. Born Kevin Hart, he was a knock-about bloke who worked in the mine for twenty years. His mining mates nicknamed him 'Professor' because he was a bit of a know-all, and was constantly coming up with daft inventions. And so he became Pro Hart. He also had a passion to draw, even though he never had any official training. He couldn't resist painting on the wooden beams in the mine, often having a shot at someone, including the shift boss. Humble beginnings indeed for a man whose private art collection was once valued at 30 million dollars. He was discovered by Kim Bonython, a gallery owner from Adelaide in 1962 and his popularity as an outback artist began. He travelled the world and met Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers and his art resides in large international collections.
Although his paintings are popular with ordinary Australians, the art critics were particularly cruel about his work. 'It's got to be said that they're the ugliest things you've ever seen,' leading Sydney art dealer Ray Hughes said of Hart's enormous output. 'We've sunk to such a low state of self-esteem that people have been celebrating the fact that he made a shitload of money for paintings that are totally unworthy.' Pro said he didn't care.
Pro once bought 2 paintings by famous Australian artist Sidney Nolan and was furious when he discovered they were fakes - very good fakes. Will Blundell has fooled the experts for years, he's a 'copyist' and can paint in any stye and he's so good that buyers and dealers often mistake Blundell's work for the real thing. So when you go to an auction room, there's a good chance some of them will be fakes.
Pro Hart decided he'd had enough and devised a plan to beat the cheats. With the help of some DNA technology, Pro had a swab sample taken from his cheek and his DNA mark is then applied to every one of his paintings and read by a special scanner which proves each painting's authenticity. DNA technologist Ron Taylor explains how it's done.
"In the case of artwork, we've mixed it into paints - both visible and invisible. So it can be a visible mark on there, such as the artist's signature, or it can be applied totally invisible, as part of the painting, and we'll only know it from our digital image we take of where the location is." .
At Broken Hill on 4th April 2006 Pro Hart received a state funeral. With his casket draped in the Australian flag and a miner's helmet and lamp placed on top, the Silver City said farewell to Pro Hart - artist of the people.