A visit to the Art Gallery of NSW when he was 13 changed John Coburn’s life forever. It is also resulted in Australia gaining its most eminent abstract artist.
Up until then, Coburn, born in 1925 in Ingham, North Queensland, had had no artistic influences. But he was smitten by an Arthur Streeton work and decided that being an artist was the life for him.
He learned the basics in Sydney and was greatly influenced by abstract masters such as Matisse, Rothko and Picasso. His paintings typically incorporate large, stylised shapes in glowing colours, his bold approach also working on tapestries.
He appreciated Aboriginal art and the interpretation of the land by Australian abstract landscape artist Fred Williams.
Coburn served in the Navy during World War 2 and later enrolled at the National Art School. After graduating in 1950, he took up various jobs, won first prize at the Bathurst Regional Art Show, and returned to NAS as a teacher where he remained for 10 years. He continued to sell work, became fascinated with tapestries, and converted to Catholicism, his work becoming more meditative.
His tapestry skills saw him move his family to France - to Aubusson, one of the great tapestry centres of the world. He took workshops and designed tapestries, as well as painted and made prints.
In 1972 Coburn undertook the biggest commission of his career, two huge tapestries, The Curtains of the Sun and Moon, for the Sydney Opera House. They were woven in Aubusson and are regarded as his masterpieces.
John Coburn is a kind, gentle man who has devoted his life to painting and art education and is acknowledged by all as one of Australia’s greatest living artists.