Vale John Nixon

Written by: Fiona Gruber
The loss of John Nixon, who died on 18 August 2020 aged 70, has robbed the country of an artist of international reputation.

It has also deprived the art world of an immensely generous man who loved sharing his ideas, urged others to share theirs and frequently collaborated in a variety of ventures, including visual art, experimental music, small print publishing, curating and film making.

In a career spanning 50 years he forged a path exploring non-objective painting, collage and sculpture, variously attracting the labels of minimalism, constructivism and geometric abstraction.

In 1990 he devised an umbrella term for his work, the Experimental Painting Workshop – EPW – to encompass what he termed a “position of critical action – a manifesto for practice.”

Nixon, who was born in Sydney, trained at Preston Institute of Technology and the National Gallery School in Melbourne in the late 1960s and had his first solo show at Pinacotheca, in 1973.

At the time it was Melbourne’s foremost avant-garde gallery, in a field with very few competitors.

Nixon’s own forays into starting and running galleries broadened that field and created a new vision for artists’ taking control.

In 1979 he founded Art Projects with his then partner and fellow artist Jenny Watson; as well as showing their own work, they exhibited an influential group of contemporaries including Peter Tyndall, Mike Parr, Tony Clark and Imants Tillers.

It was, says ACCA director Max Delaney, a template for the artist-run spaces that burgeoned in the 1980s and 90s.

He was, he said “an inspiring collaborator and mentor to generations of artists, writers and publishers.”

Nixon also ran Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art in 1980-81, introducing radical ideas to a city known for its conservatism.

Tributes for Nixon have come from across the art world.

The artist and musician Marco Fusinato, with whom he collaborated in experimental anti music, recalled a visit from Nixon that was typical of his playfulness and generosity.

“He dropped by with his tote bag and pulled out an aluminium pipe that he’d found in New York. He said he’d thought of me when he found it and how it might work to play guitar with,” says Fusinato.

Interdisciplinary artist and composer David Chesworth recalls a first meeting in 1980 where Nixon’s “slightly public combative punky attitude…contrasted with his very personal friendliness.”

Nixon’s work is held in public collections around Australia and overseas including New Zealand, Germany, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, South Korea and the United States.

In 1982 he represented Australia at Documenta 7, the prestigious twice-a-decade German art event and was the recipient of the 1999 Clemenger Contemporary Art Award. In 2001/2 he received an Australia Council Fellowship Award.

Nixon had chalked up more than 70 solo shows since 2001 and his latest, Groups + Pairs 2016-2020 opened at Melbourne’s Anna Schwartz Gallery n March, just before the COVID 19 lockdown. It will remain up until the end of the year, in his memory.

John Nixon is survived by his partner, the curator Sue Cramer and their daughter Emma Nixon.