Sydney-born contemporary artist John Nixon was a leading figure of Australian abstraction and experimental art. Spanning more than half a century from the late 1960s, his career was defined by formal experiments and innovation that encompassed painting to collage, photography, video, dance and experimental music performance.Read More
Nixon began his trajectory of artistic experimentation in the late 1960s while studying at Preston Institute of Technology in Melbourne. Between 1968 and 1970 the artist produced a series of small 'block' paintings, consisting of various colour combinations in simple block compositions. They were initially created from scraps of canvas and stretcher found at the Preston Institute.
While abstract, his works were always heavily influenced by his surroundings, whether that was the materials available to him or the places he inhabited. He often reused scraps such as the backs of etching plates, as in Untitled (1985). The mallet form featured in that work also highlighted the semi-rural area he lived in while teaching in Melbourne.
Graduating from the National Gallery School, Melbourne, in 1970, Nixon further pursued a personal project of pioneering experimentation. In 1978 he conceived of the intellectual concept of the Experimental Painting Workshop (EPW)—the idea of transforming the gallery space into a workshop for his diverse practical experiments with the properties of colour, objects, and materials.
In this explorative process his reference points were the visual languages of radical modernism, minimalism, constructivism, monochrome painting, collage, non-objective art, and the readymade.
Nixon's experimental abstractions spread their influence across Melbourne and Brisbane where he taught and worked. In 1982 he represented Australia at documenta 7, Kassel. Today one can find John Nixon artworks in state art museums in Australia and in several major international public collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Foire Nationale d'Art Contemporain, Paris; Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark; and the National Gallery of Contemporary Art, Seoul.
John Nixon's legacy expands far beyond his art. From 1979 he founded several exhibition spaces and publishing ventures, providing a new outlet for alternative discussions around art. The first of these was the Melbourne-based gallery Art Projects (1979–1984).
These ventures foregrounded his work and ideas alongside those of many of his influential contemporaries including Peter Tyndall, John Dunkley-Smith, Jenny Watson, Mike Parr, Imants Tillers, and Robert MacPherson. From the mid-1980s he also developed a thriving artistic dialogue with New Zealand artists including Milan Mrkusich, Julian Dashper, and Gordon Walters.
John Nixon Abstraction / Colour is an Abstraction, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland (2017); Black White & Grey. Photographic Studies (Photosheets), Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne (2012); EPW + HPF, Carlstensen Studio, Copenhagen (2011); EPW: polychrome, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville (2007).
ICONS/Non Objects, Kiev Non Objective, Mikhail Bulgakov Museum, Kiev (2018); Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2017); Mix tape: 1980s Appropriation, Subculture, Critical style, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013); Negotiating this world: contemporary Australian art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2012); WHAM: PAINTING AND BEYOND, Den Frei, Copenhagen (2009); Australia: contemporary non-objective art, Museum in Kulturspeicher, Würzburg (2008); and 21st Century Modern, Adelaide Biennale, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2006).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020