Bernard Hesling was a mid-20th century UK-born painter who lived and worked in Sydney from 1928 until 1962, when he moved to Adelaide. He was a designer and muralist in the 1950s and later a successful vitreous-enamel painter who did much to foster vitreous-enamel artwork on steel plate in Australia. He was also a cartoonist, journalist and author of humorous autobiographical books.
Bernard Hesling, from a Yorkshire family, was born in 1905 while the family was temporarily in Wales. They returned to Yorkshire in 1907. He left school at age 15 and was apprenticed to a firm of painters and decorators. He studied art at Halifax night-school, where his teacher was the artist Joseph Mellor Hanson.
In 1928 he migrated to Australia and worked on Sydney shop-window displays. In 1929 he exhibited his abstract paintings but sold only three. He returned to London about 1930 and worked as a display artist. Later he was an art director at Elstree film studios, London, where he worked for three or four years. He returned to Sydney in 1939. During the war he did design work at Slazenger’s Munitions Annexe, Botany. In his spare time he drew political cartoons for The Daily Telegraph later joining that newspaper full time.
He left the Telegraph in 1946, moved to The Sydney Morning Herald , then to Smith’s Weekly where he decorated 'his merry writings with his own curious humorous drawings’ (Blaikie, 132). He was an art reviewer at the Sydney Observer until sacked for a critical review of a Blake exhibition he hadn’t seen.
Hesling painted wall murals from 1950 until about 1957 for commercial and business clients. In 1957 he took up vitreous enamel painting fired on steel plate – tables, ashtrays, wall panels etc – and he exhibited his vividly coloured artwork throughout Australia.
He moved from Sydney to Adelaide in 1962. At an exhibition of his enamels at Underwood Galleries in Sydney in 1965 Hesling said: 'I have expressed myself in many different ways in order to prove the validity and versatility of vitreous enamel as a painting medium. Painting in enamel is no harder than painting in oils – merely different.’(SMH 14 Nov 1965 p97)
He was awarded an OAM in 1985 for contributions to the visual, performing and literary arts and for pioneering in Australia the use of vitreous enamels. He died on 13 June 1987.