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Aug 19 2020

Obituary: John Nixon (1949–2020)

by Kaitlin Hao

JOHN NIXON in his studio in December 2019. Courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne.

Multidisciplinary artist John Nixon passed away on August 18 in Melbourne after a year-long struggle with leukemia. He was 70 years old. 

A pioneer of the Australian abstraction movement and radical modernism, Nixon was known for his experimental approach and his geometric compositions. He was fascinated by the constructive nature of art and the relationship between form and medium, and worked in a broad range of media including painting, drawing, collage, printmaking, film, photography, graphic design, and experimental music. 

Sydney-born Nixon began making art in the late 1960s. Following his studies at Melbourne’s Preston Institute of Technology in 1968, he received diplomas in art and education from Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria Art School and the State College of Victoria, respectively. He held his first exhibition at the city’s Pinacotheca gallery in 1973. In 1978, he established the Experimental Painting Workshop, a project dedicated to his experiments in painting for which he garnered acclaim. He later taught at the city’s Victorian College of the Arts, and in 1979, he established the Art Projects gallery, which provided a platform for fellow Australian artists such as Tony Clark, Robert Owen, and Jenny Watson. In 1982, he represented Australia at Documenta 7 in Kassel.

Nixon had a prolific career with over 70 solo exhibitions since 2001, including the 2017 show “John Nixon: Various Works 2013-2017” at Otterndorf‘s Museum gegenstandsfreier Kunst and “John Nixon – Abstraction” at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. He was also the recipient of Melbourne’s 1999 Clemenger Contemporary Art Award and the 2001 Australia Council Fellowship Award.

His works are held in many museum collections, including Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim MuseumHerning Museum of Contemporary Art, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea in Seoul, among others.

In an email, gallerist Anna Schwartz, a long-time friend of Nixon, said, “John has been a fundamental artist and source of inspiration for me in the gallery; a friend for 35 years whose support and enthusiasm have been generously given to all who he has worked with.” His current solo exhibition at Anna Schwartz Gallery, “Groups + Pairs 2016–2020,”  shows his recent works, and will be on view until the end of the year. 

Nixon is survived by his wife Sue Cramer, curator at Bulleen’s Heide Museum of Modern Art, and daughter Emma Nixon.

Kaitlin Hao is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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