Shapes and Colours

Through the lens of John Coburn

Art, and especially great art, is not made in isolation. Societal needs, environmental input, and personal experience all combine to create an expression of emotion that is uniquely human, and therefore relatable to all.

Artist John Coburn (1925-2006) spent his early years around Ingham, Queensland, before joining the Australian Navy at seventeen. During this time, Coburn sketched and drew images of the places he visited in a sketchbook – the very images that granted him entry to the East Sydney Technical College (later to become the National Art School). Graduating in 1952, he would go on to become a teacher at the college before joining the ABC as a graphic designer in 1956.

Inspired by abstract artists such as Picasso and Matisse, Coburn developed a unique (to the Australian arts scene at the time) visual dialect to express his fascination and deep love for the Australian landscape, enmeshing it within symbols of Christianity and greater spiritual exploration; a theme that would become integral to his work.

‘Legend IV’ is a bold, evocative piece, with the distinctive style that immediately marks it as a Coburn- a focus on shapes, bold colouring, with an emphasis on the organic and natural.

“I simply paint these things to explain the world to myself.” – John Coburn, 1969