Art Nomad
Art Nomad
Brighton, Victoria 3186 Australia
Ph: 0407 501 808
ABN: 66 086 690 771
Send us an E-mail

Click an Image below to Enlarge

Ronald (Ron) Charles ROBERTSON-SWANN A.O. (b.1941)

Ron Robertson-Swann was born in Sydney in 1941. He spent his early years at home in Bellevue Hill in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. After WWII, he and his older sister spent much of their childhood living with the family of Peter Powditch, moving from town to town in New South Wales as Peter’s father’s job as a town clerk moved. Robertson-Swann has said that he would “describe my upbringing as benign neglect”. After finishing school at just 15, and spending a year in the citizen’s military forces, he studied sculpture at East Sydney Technical College beginning with night school and then moving to the full-time experimental course under Lyndon Dadswell from 1957 to 1959. His parents were horrified by his decision to study art and his father disowned him at the time. *

In 1960, Robertson-Swann moved to London and then travelled in Europe and lived in Athens for a year, where he taught English and worked at a stonemason and potters. He commenced post-graduate studies in sculpture at St Martin’s School of Art in 1962 where he was taught by the renowned and highly influential sculptors Anthony Caro and Philip King. Both Caro and King were prominent in a move towards abstraction, experimenting with colour and materials, including steel. Between 1963 and 1965, Robertson-Swann worked as an assistant to Henry Moore, one of the pre-eminent British sculptors of the 20th century. In 1963, he taught at St Martin’s School of Art and from 1965 to 1966 he was a lecturer at East Ham Technical College. He then lectured at Goldsmith’s College, University of London in 1967. **

Returning to Sydney in 1968, Robertson-Swann rose to fame for his own hard-edged abstract works painted in bright industrial colours, that continued Caro’s spatial investigations. He lectured in architecture at the University of New South Wales and at the National Art School from 1969 to 1974. He was appointed head of the sculpture department at the Canberra School of Art where he taught from 1978 to 1990. Robertson-Swann returned to the National Art School as head of sculpture from 2009 until his retirement in 2018. ***

Robertson-Swann was a founding member of the Visual Arts Board of the Australian Council and an advisor to Sculpture by the Sea, a popular annual outdoor sculpture exhibition that started in Bondi in 1997. **

Robertson-Swann held his first solo exhibition of both paintings and sculpture at the Rudy Komon Art Gallery in 1968, on his return to Sydney from London. Robertson-Swann was among the artists included in the landmark exhibition, The Field, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968. It was the first comprehensive exhibition of colour field painting and works of abstraction in Australia. Although already best known for his sculpture works, he was represented at The Field by three hard-edge paintings produced in England, because these could be sent back to Australia more easily than his sculpture works.*** Since then, he has held over 30 solo exhibitions, as well as numerous group exhibitions, around Australia and internationally in Denmark and Japan.

Robertson-Swann has won numerous awards including the John Moores Painting Prize in Liverpool in 1965 at age 24. This prize was judged by Clement Greenberg, one of the world’s most influential art critics. Robertson-Swann has also been awarded both the Comalco Invitational Award for Sculpture in Aluminium and the Transfield Art Prize in 1969, the Mildura Purchase Prize in 1970, the Alice Prize in 1976 and the Bathurst Prize in 1977. He was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2002 for services to sculpture and education. **

 Robertson-Swann’s best-known and most controversial public work, Vault, is a large-scale, angular, bright yellow sculpture fabricated from welded steel which was commissioned by the City of Melbourne for City Square and installed in 1980. It generated heated public debate and was dubbed ‘The Yellow Peril’. In 1981, it was relocated without his consent to the obscurity of Batman Park until it was transferred again in 2002 to its current location outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.* Despite the negativity directed at his artwork, Robertson-Swann has remained good humoured and philosophical about the public response saying: “If something new comes into the world it takes a while for taste and sensibility to adjust. … It’s there and free for everyone to see … if they want. If they’d prefer to go to the footy, absolutely fine, good on ’em.” ****

Graeme Sturgeon, the pre-eminent Australian sculpture historian and critic, described Robertson-Swann in 1980 as “the most consistent of the Classic Formalists, that is, the one most concerned to produce a sculpture which, while obviously of its era, transcends considerations of style in search of a timeless sense of rightness”.***** Robertson-Swann himself has said: “A little bit before art I was intrigued by the thinking of the Greeks, by Pythagoras and the notion that under nature was geometry and those relationships seemed to be very important to me.”*

During his time in London, with limited resources to create his own steel sculptures, Robertson-Swann focused much of his energy on painting, influenced by the work of Morris Louis. He began by experimenting with stain painting techniques using oil paint thinned with turpentine, before switching to acrylic paints. Although he later became renowned for his sculpture work, painting has remained a significant and vital part of his practice. His paintings exhibit his interest in the physical dynamics and sculptural properties of painting. ***

Robertson-Swann ’s works are held in Collections across Australia, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, Parliament House in Canberra, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Queensland Cultural Centre and many other state and regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia and in England.

* Interview with Ron-Robertson-Swann, Deborah Edwards, senior curator of Australian art, Art Gallery of NSW, 19 August and 6 December 2011 and 22 May 2015 ** Biography, Artist profile: Ron Robertson-Swann, Art Gallery of NSW *** Ron Robertson-Swann, The Field Revisited Artwork Labels, pp. 8 & 128 **** Ron Robertson-Swann Vault 1980, Melbourne Public Art Trail, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art ***** What the Sculpture Said, Rosemary Manning


< Back to Artists


NOTICE: The browser you are using is not capable of rendering this website correctly. Click here for more information.