John NIXON, (Eleven heads) Enlarge 1 /1


Sydney, New South Wales, Australia born 1949

(Eleven heads) 1978 Materials & Technique: paintings, plastic, paint, cardboard packaging. dimensions variable

Dimensions: each 24 h x 17 w x 7 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1984
Accession No: NGA 84.1266.A-K
Image rights: © the artist

Since 1968, John Nixon has questioned the nature of art through a widely diverse practice informed by Minimalism and Conceptual Art. His simple yet richly diverse geometric paintings show an inventive and resourceful use of ready-made objects and basic materials such as cardboard, newspaper, hessian, masonite and felt. Nixon’s continuing use of geometric forms – crosses and other minimalist shapes – was originally inspired by the work of the early 20th-century Russian Constructivist artists and 1960s Abstractionists such as Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. His everyday, non-art materials express an affinity with Vladimir Tatlin’s creed of a ‘culture of materials’ and also with the poetics of 1960s arte povera.

The radical impetus of the modernist tradition is an enduring source of inspiration for Nixon; it is the premise upon which he has developed his own contemporary approach to abstraction and exhibition making. Through a lively, ongoing process of experimentation (with materials, methods and approaches to display), Nixon continually tests definitions of painting and the form of the exhibition. 

The work pictured here, Eleven heads, is from the period of Conceptual Art and typifies the declarative, language-based forms Nixon used at that time. Each of the individual ‘heads’ (cardboard constructions suggestive of the shape of a head with megaphone) is accompanied by a spoken audiotape of the artist’s voice. When originally exhibited, a single ‘head’ was shown by itself in an otherwise empty room. It was simply attached to the wall with the sound seeming to come from the megaphone form. Each work was considered by the artist to be an exhibition in itself. When the heads are shown as a group, the work becomes like a store or archive of the individual pieces.

Sue Cramer 2002.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002