Barrier reef

Born Ingham, Queensland, Australia 1925, died Sydney 2006


John Coburn is best known for his striking abstract works which celebrate the colour and forms of the Australian landscape. In Coburn’s unique symbolic language, bright shapes float over fields of often intense colour, expressing an emotional response to the harmony and vibrant rhythms of nature. Passionate about the work of artists such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger, he forged his own style of distinctive flat, coloured shapes to express the mysteries of life. His delight in the tropical life of Queensland, its foliage, bird and marine life is strongly evident in Barrier Reef (1976).

Coburn studied painting at East Sydney Technical College (1947–50) and later adapted his paintings to screenprints, tapestries and stage sets, encouraged by his partner, the screenprint artist Barbara Woodward. In 1958 Coburn held his first solo exhibition at Macquarie Galleries, Sydney and that same year his work was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

A two-time winner of the Blake Prize (1960 and 1977), Coburn was also included in the Australian art exhibitions at the Whitechapel and Tate Galleries in London (1961 and 1962) and produced two tapestries for the Sydney Opera House in 1970. Coburn’s work has been included in significant Australian survey exhibitions in New York, Japan and throughout Europe and is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, all state galleries and many regional and university collections.