John Nixon Test­ed the Vital­i­ty of Geo­met­ric Abstraction

Sophie Knezic

… Nixon was not only an artist but a cura­tor, musi­cian, gal­lerist, small-press pub­lish­er and edu­ca­tor, who cut a promi­nent fig­ure in con­tem­po­rary art in Aus­tralia over the last four decades. He co-found­ed the artist-run space Art Projects in 1979, with Jen­ny Wat­son, and was part of an influ­en­tial coterie of Mel­bourne artists dur­ing the 1980s, includ­ing Tony Clark, Mike Parr and Peter Tyn­dall. In 1978, he coined the phrase Exper­i­men­tal Paint­ing Work­shop to refer to his ongo­ing artis­tic project of crit­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion into paint­ing prac­tice, piv­ot­ing on the open-end­ed explo­ration of abstrac­tion, the mono­chrome and non-objec­tiv­i­ty as fer­tile ground for hon­ing his min­i­mal­ist aes­thet­ic. Nixon’s DIY ethos of stag­ing exhi­bi­tions, his col­lab­o­ra­tive approach to mak­ing art, attrac­tion to every­day mate­ri­als gleaned from hard­ware stores and char­i­ty shops, and an over­all reduc­tivism emerged out of his stint at Art Projects.”

Untitled (pair)
, 2019
enamel on wood on MDF
2 parts, each 90 x 60 cm

… It’s been said that there is noth­ing exper­i­men­tal about Nixon’s Exper­i­men­tal Paint­ing Work­shop, that the artist fix­at­ed on mod­ernist par­a­digms as a kind of per­for­ma­tive griev­ing, or that his employ­ment of a con­struc­tivist ver­nac­u­lar was mere­ly rhetor­i­cal. This view accords with post­mod­ern asser­tions that late-20th-cen­tu­ry resus­ci­ta­tions of mod­ernist paint­ing con­sti­tut­ed an evis­cer­at­ed, melan­cholic return.”

Untitled, 2018
wool and MDF on linen; foam and plywood on enamel on canvas
46 x 42 cm; 55 x 40 cm

… But Nixon’s works do not resem­ble the pos­tures of post­mod­ern mor­bid­i­ty. Rather, they pulse with life and buoy­an­cy, delight­ing in inver­sions, dou­blings and brac­ing jux­ta­po­si­tions of mate­ri­als, tex­tures and colour. As a men­tor to gen­er­a­tions of artists and an enthu­si­as­tic advo­cate for artist-led ini­tia­tives and col­lab­o­ra­tive prac­tices, Nixon embod­ied a lat­ter-day utopi­an dri­ve. If the artist immersed him­self in the lan­guages of ear­ly-20th-cen­tu­ry geo­met­ric abstrac­tion, it was to test their vital­i­ty. He swished the syl­la­bles around in his mouth to feel their shapes and speak them anew.”

Untitled (alpine landscape)
, 2018
enamel on canvas
2 parts, each 30 x 12.5 cm

Excerpt­ed from frieze​.com. Pub­lished in frieze, Reviews, 16 Octo­ber 2020.



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