Joy St Clair Hester 1920-1960, artist, was born on 21 August 1920 at Elsternwick, Melbourne. Educated at St Michael's Church of England Girls' Grammar School, St Kilda, in 1936 Joy completed one year of an art-and-crafts course at Brighton Technical School. At the National Gallery schools she won first prize for drawing a head from life. The course was conservative and she abandoned it, preferring to attend life-drawing classes at the Victorian Artists Society, East Melbourne. A founding member of the Contemporary Art Society in 1938, she first exhibited in its inaugural exhibition in the following year. The C.A.S. was to remain her only venue for showing work until she held her first solo exhibition at the Melbourne Book Club Gallery in 1950. In January 1941 at All Saints Church, Greensborough, she married with Anglican rites a fellow artist Albert Lee Tucker.
Between 1938 and 1947 Hester was part of a stimulating and innovative circle of painters among them Sir Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and John Perceval which was colloquially known as the 'Angry Penguins', after the art and literary magazine of the same name published by John Reed and Max Harris. She was the only woman artist in the group. It met regularly at Heide, the home of the art patrons John and Sunday Reed. Sunday was Hester's closest friend, encouraging her work, supporting her financially and later adopting her first son Sweeney.
Hester drew and rarely painted, favouring the media of brush and ink. It was an unusual choice, one that set her apart from her contemporaries and one that she developed with great skill through her brief career. If it determined her style and method, it also meant that during her lifetime her art received little attention. Drawing was not valued as highly as oil painting and was seen as preparatory to the finished work of art. Further, Hester's method of working sitting on the floor in company and rapidly producing her drawings meant that she was viewed as a casual rather than a serious artist.
She chose the human face as her motif, focussing on the eyes. Intense emotions and psychological states were registered with quick, sure, expressionist strokes. Her portraits of friends and family were incisive, while the 'Gethsemane' series concentrated on upward-gazing, hallucinatory heads. Her immediate influences included German Expressionism, the Russian emigrant painter Danila Vassilieff, and Picasso. She was also directly influenced by the newsreels shown in 1945 of Nazi concentration camps. Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and Judith Wright were her favourite poets. An important early series, 'From An Incredible Night Dream' was inspired by Jean Cocteau's Opium.
In 1947 Hester was diagnosed as having Hodgkin's disease and given a short time to live. She left her husband and young son, and moved to Sydney with Gray Smith. In the next two years she produced some of her…