Joy St Clair Hester
21 August 1920
|Died||4 December 1960 (aged 40)|
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Hester was born in Elsternwick and studied art from an early age. She was a student at St Michael's Grammar School from 1933 to 1937, then, at 17, enrolled in Commercial Art at Brighton Technical School, before attending the National Gallery School in Melbourne.
Hester met Albert Tucker in 1937, whom she began to live with intermittently in 1938 in East Melbourne, and whom she married in 1941. Hester was a contemporary of Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, John Perceval and Laurence Hope. She helped to establish the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) and was the only female painter in the modernist movement, the Angry Penguins. Hester had a son, Sweeney Reed (1944-1979)while married to Albert Tucker.
In 1947, when Sweeney was three, Hester was diagnosed with terminal Hodgkin's lymphoma. Believing she had only 2 years to live, she decided to move to Sydney to live with Melbourne artist Gray Smith, gave her son into the care of John Reed and Sunday Reed, the influential, Melbourne-based art patrons, who subsequently adopted him. It emerged many years later that Tucker was not Sweeney's biological father, and that he was probably the son of Melbourne jazz drummer Billy Hyde, with whom Hester had had a brief affair. Sweeney Reed committed suicide in 1979.
The illness impacted heavily on Hester's work and left an indelible mark on it, loaded with emotional content. Hester and Gray moved to rural Hurstbridge in 1948 and later lived at Avonsleigh and Upwey in the Dandenong Ranges. She married Gray in 1959. They had two children, Fern and Peregrine. Hester had 3 solo exhibitions but struggled to sell work. She worked mainly in black ink and wash, using quick, spontaneous lines guided by stream of consciousness. She also wrote poetry and used her drawings to illustrate her words.
John and Sunday Reed organised a commemorative exhibitions of Hester's work in 1963. In 1981, Janine Burke, Hester's biographer, curated the first major retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria. Hester's life and work was the subject of a documentary, The Good Looker, in 1995. Reviewing her work for Time (magazine) in 2001, Michael Fitzgerald wrote 'Forty-one years after her death, Hester's drawings still suck the oxygen from the air, providing some of the clearest-eyed images in Australian art.' In 2018 her 'Love' and 'Lover' series of works featured in a joint exhibit with Patricia Piccinini at TarraWarra Museum of Art. Piccinini credited Hester as a major influence on her own practice: "I love the way her painting, especially those with merged features, are simultaneously surreal and figurative. I am really interested in depictions of luove and intimacy in my own work, so I find Hester's approach very inspiring."