Wednesday, November 08, 2006

National Art School mourns loss of Australia’s eminent abstractionist, John Coburn AO

John Coburn AO who was Australia’s most eminent abstract painter leaves behind a legacy of being a major artistic figure and contributor to the history of the visual arts in Australia.

Born in Ingham, Queensland, Coburn left school at 14. He worked in a bank before serving in the navy during World War II and in 1947, Coburn’s artistic ambitions were nearly thwarted when he arrived in Sydney a week too late for the entrance test to study drawing and painting at the then East Sydney Technical College, now the National Art School.

Fortunately, a sympathetic lecturer looked over Coburn’s drawings, a series inspired by Australian WWII artist, Frank Norton. Coburn was immediately accepted on the merit of his drawings alone and coincidently, that sympathetic lecturer was indeed the artist Frank Norton himself.

Coburn studied art at the National Art School and went on to become a lecturer and then Principal of the National Art School from 1972-74.

In 2004 the NAS invited him to become a Fellow, along with Peter Rushforth (2003) and Colin Lanceley (2002).

“Coburn, one of Australia’s most significant artists was a much-loved individual and teacher at the NAS. We mourn his passing and send our sympathy and support to his family and to his daughter Kristin who is now a graduating student here at the School,” says Geoff Ireland Acting Director, National Art School.

Coburn’s influences were many and varied. In 1953, he saw an exhibition of modern French paintings and became "a committed abstractionist". His work was also informed by the Renaissance religious paintings, indigenous art and nature. Coburn’s distinctive use of glowing colour, form and shape in such a sustained fashion culminated in his own decorative and distinctive style.

One of Coburn’s better known commissions was his design of the great tapestry curtains for the Sydney Opera House - Curtain of the Sun and Curtain of the Moon (shown above).