Anne Hall: The Last Antipodean Expressionist

art2Anne Hall, like Joy Hester, had the misfortune to be married to one of the leading Figurative Expressionists in the history of Australian Art. Hall married John Perceval in 1972 and Hester, Albert Tucker in 1941. Like Hester, Hall was swept up in the steamy John and Sunday Reed circle out at Heide. Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan cast longer shadows than Perceval who was the youngest and died in 2000. Nolan departed in 1992 and Boyd in 1999. Which makes Anne Hall the last surviving member of this heroic chapter of Australian art.

Hall studied at RMIT, and had met Perceval in 1967. Right from the start her work showed a deep emotional intensity, particularly in her drawings. While not a signatory to the Antipodean Manifesto, like Boyd and Perceval in 1959, Hall was a next generation Figurative Expressionist, and what one could call an “Antipodean” by style and marriage. She began exhibiting with the South Yarra Gallery in 1968 and into the 1970s. Her work was reviewed favorably during this period by the Herald Art Critic Alan McCulloch who praised her work as “highly imaginative, strong in observation of character and understanding of distortion”. And it was Patrick McCaughey of The Age who described her as an heir to the Antipodean Movement.

Urgency of expression and highly developed drawing skills are hallmarks of Hall’s very personal style. Gestural workings, often-distorted facial features running off into a single line characterize much of her drawn oeuvre. Staring eyes sometimes veiled by a pentimenti of charcoal dust are watching us. Sinuous ngers seemingly searching for the warmth of touch reach out for something unanswered.

As the dust settles on the 20th century there is greater transparency. It seems that the relationship between Hall and Perceval was a collaborative one as well as a caring one. Perceval’s biographer, Traudi Allen, originally noticed this when writing about Perceval’s masterpiece Veronica and the Conspirators, based on the Dutch master Heironymous Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross. Allen writes that Perceval had Hall copy the right hand corner of the Bosch which he then improvised around.

art1When comparing the work of both during their ten-year marriage it becomes clear there are many stylistic similarities, as there was between Tucker and Hester. Their relationship ended in divorce in 1981 following Perceval’s admission into Larundel Psychiatric Hospital with alcoholism and schizophrenia in 1977.

After showing great promise during the pre-Perceval years of her career, moving in with Perceval, at the very, least cost Hall much independence as an artist. It is in the post-Perceval period that signs of a different artist begin to emerge. Yet there hasn’t been enough work around to really make an informed opinion. Hence there is great excitement in the art trade over Leonard Joel’s securing of over two hundred works, to be auctioned on Thursday 3rd March.

There are over thirty- ve paintings and the rest are works on paper. The earliest is dated 1965. Most cover the tumultuous years with Perceval, and there are a few from the post-Perceval period. Highlights would include two portraits of Perceval. One in a patterned sweater dated 1976 a year before Larundel . The other is dated 1981 the year of their divorce. The eyes in the rst are open to the world, in the second they are downcast. Blank. Desolate. Hall’s paint handling in both is passionate, descriptive, deliberate, and the bitterness that resides in the corners of Perceval’s mouth is not expressionist license, but how it was. Both these works would sit well beside other portraits of Perceval painted in the same period : Tucker also painted Perceval in 1976. It’s a brutal painting with bulging blood-shot eyes and iron bark for hair. And Clifton Pugh was a runner up in the Archibald Prize in 1985 with a rather saccharine portrayal. Both miss the man. Whereas Hall, no doubt because of daily contact cuts right through appearances to Perceval’s very soul.

Jeff Makin
Artist and Art Critic
January 2016