John Nixon (1949-2020) was one of Australia’s foremost abstract artists, a prolific creator, experimenter, curator and teacher for over 50 years.
Local collectors Susan Taylor and Peter Jones regard him as a central figure in their engagement with art. This exhibition, drawn from their collection, is a window into the enormous range of Nixon’s work. Encompassing painting, drawing, construction, collage, printmaking, books and journals, photography and music, the display is accompanied by a trove of rare ephemera from Nixon’s many Australian and international exhibitions and performances. Nixon was also a passionate collector himself. For him, life was art, as it is now for Taylor and Jones who deeply value living everyday with these works.
John Nixon, Orange Monochrome Construction (with five colours) 2001, enamel and wood on board. © the Estate of John Nixon. Susan Taylor and Peter Jones Collection.
One long wall, a return and then a large glass vitrine.
The configuration of the Open Collections Gallery at Canberra Museum and Gallery has enabled Susan Taylor and Peter Jones to curate their deep holdings of John Nixon’s works with a combination of both rigor and playfulness that the artist would have enjoyed.
Taylor and Jones have carefully built a much wider collection of contemporary non-objective and abstract art and live with their works daily, so the decision to focus on this one artist was not taken lightly. However, given John Nixon’s influence as artist, teacher, writer, publisher, musician and collaborator since the earliest period of his career in Melbourne in the 1970s, it seemed hard to imagine a collection of art of our times without him. Defiantly contrary to the figurative and landscape traditions within Australian art history, Nixon’s passing in August 2020 has left a vacuum that it seemed only appropriate to fill with a presentation of his work.
Although this is the most extensive display of their collection yet mounted, Taylor and Jones are no strangers to sharing their collection and enjoy the wider dialogue that different configurations of presentation bring. Their Instagram @SpareRoom33 is updated almost daily with visual offerings from their collection, occasionally displayed in their Canberra residence and on rotation on the walls of their Manuka boutique, Department of the Exterior.
Just as in Nixon’s own practice, in the structure of this display, there is no sense of privilege distinguishing posters, DVD’s, paintings on enamel, prints, assemblages, printed ephemera, hand drawings or photographs. Nixon’s well documented care in devising the total environment for the presentation of his works, has been thoughtfully re-interpreted by Taylor and Jones for this exhibition. John Nixon himself acknowledged their considered approach as collectors by gifting them a range of his printed exhibition ephemera and a unique photo essay he made of textures he found at their house and garden on a visit in 2014.
Although well known in reproduction, this timely exhibition aims to introduce Canberra audiences to the physical presence of John Nixon’s work - to see the texture of broken eggshells under enamel, the effect of vivid flatness of bright orange against a bar of pink, and the overwhelming sense of a purposeful life of enquiry through art.