Gunter Sylvester Christmann was born in Berlin in 1936 and arrived in Melbourne in February 1959 before relocating to Sydney where he currently resides. In 1962 Christmann began his painting career and first exhibited in 1965 in the group show, ’25 Young Painters at Melbourne’s Argus Gallery. From his first solo exhibition at Central Street Gallery, Sydney in 1966, Christmann has held regular exhibitions throughout Australia and on the international art stage. The artist’s personal interpretation of European inspired hard-edged abstraction saw him rise to prominence in the 1960s, with his work included in the influential ‘The Field’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968.
Christmann looks to the contemporary world around him for inspiration and expression, often incorporating ‘street-wise’ graffiti style ‘tagging’ calligraphy into his innovative works. He began this unique ‘tagging’ on colour photocopies in a painting from a series exhibited at the ‘Act x11: New Works on Paper’ in 1967.
In 1971Christmann was chosen to represent Australia at the Sao Paulo Biennial. In 1973 he spent a lengthy period in Berlin under the auspices of the prestigious DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service).
Although Christmann describes his early style as ‘constructivist’, he says his concept of art changed over the years. “Anyone who was good left a mark on me. All my work is twentieth century European and maybe more early twentieth century than later.” Christmann confesses his love of word play, with many works based on literature, “From Ovid to folklore,” he says.
Rather than offer explanation of his works, Christmann prefers viewers to form their own impressions: “You see the picture, with a little effort” he says. “The paintings are the experience and the experience is in the viewing. You can take away something from it.”
Inspired by the deeply personal artistic interaction with his works by his artist wife, Jenny, Christmann invites viewers to take their time when drawing their observations of his artistic expression, to see beyond the image. His show at Melbourne’s Niagara, Portrait d’Amour: Recent and Not So Recent Paintings’ featured 21 paintings which highlight his artist wife’s contribution to and influence over his artistic journey.
Christmann’ s history as a painter and his personal life with Jenny are intertwined in his works, reflecting his belief that a painting is not simply the seen image; it is also, as the artist says, “a feeling and a place”. While he painted many works featuring his wife, Christmann created very few self-portraits, three of which featured in the Niagara exhibition. In Morchang (1996) and Juiceharp (1997) Christmann depicts himself playing a Jew’s harp, a musical instrument that, like didgeridoos, he has been collecting and recording since the 1970s. In Mauermaler (1989), Christmann painted a double portrait, where he, as a silhouetted painter, encloses a realistic self-portrait. Christmann’s use of the silhouette is inspired by his occasional practice of working from projected slides. With difficulty in avoiding his own shadow, he painted the outline on the canvas rather than working around the shadow. This became a signature motif of his paintings in the late 1980s.
Gunter Christmann is widely regarded as a painter's painter whose works navigate across abstraction and figuration.
Since 1984 Christmann has shown at Melbourne’s Niagara Galleries and the National Gallery of Australia features a larger collection of Christmann’ s works than any other contemporary Australian artist. Christmann has been a prolific exhibitor since 1965, with solo and group exhibitions throughout Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Germany. Numerous collections of Christmann’s works feature throughout national and international Art Galleries, Universities, corporations and private collections.