John Coburn, Various Works
John Coburn, Summer and other works
John Coburn must be one of the most iconic Australian abstraction artists of the Twentieth Century. His images are recognisable for their shapes, styles and imagery. Born on the 23rd September 1925 in Ingham, Queensland, John Coburn went to boarding school at All Souls in Charters Towers and left school at 15 to work in a local bank. In 1942, at the age of 17, he joined the navy where he became a radio operator. At the war’s end he returned to a bank job in far western Queensland but after only a few months he fled to Sydney intending to enrol as a full-time art student under the Ex-Serviceman’s Rehabilitation Scheme at the East Sydney Technical College in Darlinghurst (later to become the National Art School). After missing the deadline to enter the art school, he presented art teacher Frank Norton with a parcel of drawings of warships. Norton took one look at the sketches and announced: “You’re in!” (Art Collector Web-site).
A large collection of Coburn's work is held by the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. he is also represented in many other state galleries. The British Museum owns three lithographs all from 1990 which were given by the Australian Print Workshop.
John Coburn passed away after a long illness aged 81 on the 9th November 2006
The Works of Art
The University of Canberra holds three works of art by John Coburn. The first was acquired in 1973 and is an oil on thin canvas work, titled 'Sentinel'. The work is a fantastic composition of shapes on a sky blue background. There is movement in these forms which belies Coburn's focus on abstractionism closely linked with spirituality.
Colours have particular meaning with Coburn. Reds and oranges which are shown in Yangan, acquired by the University of Canberra in 2014 (but was created in 1980) is associated with fire and the vibrancy of life. The colour blue which is shown in Sentinel is associated with the night and sadness. The bright yellow and gold leaf which can be seen in 'Summer', is an allusion to the rich Byzantine traditions. Yet according to Nevill Drury, some of Coburn's works transcend colour altogether. In the Cloud of Unknowing- a homage to Rothko, the Godhead speaks to us from the Void, a level of being beyond manifested form.
Created in 1988 and acquired by the University of Canberra in 2004, 'The Summer' is a limited edition silkscreen print which was a design for a tapestry and part of a series titled, the four seasons of nature. It is an incredibly bright work that is full of movement, life, colour and spirituality. There is a sense of God, surrounded by his creation in a garden. This is clearly depicted by the bright sun touching many of the forms in the picture. The work is a celebration of life.
The third work in the University of Canberra's Art Collection, Yangan, was created in 1980 and acquired by the University in 2014. As noted above, it reflects the bright reds and oranges giving the work vibrancy. Although abstract, one can almost visualize figures with arms upraised in joy.
A strong sense of spirituality can be seen many of John Coburn's works of art. Religious imagery may take the form of the menorah, the chalice and even a stone-henge. John Coburn's works are the Twentieth Century's answer to some of the great religious works of the past but in a new way of thinking and in seeing.
Art Collector, John Coburn, https://artcollector.net.au/john-coburn-spirit-of-abstraction/
The Art of the Clear, Precise and Joyful, Sydney Morning Herald, 9th November 2006, https://www.smh.com.au/national/art-of-the-clear-precise-and-joyful-20061109-gdosd2.html
John Coburn, Curator's art file, University of Canberra
John Coburn, https://coburnart.com/#about