In 1969 in an interview with The Canberra Times John Coburn stated that “I don’t think art is created in isolation; an artist, to me, is someone in tune with the environment around him.” (Juddery, 1969) This came at a time when Coburn had fully realised his individual style, one that Australians and international collectors have become so enamoured with still today.
He described that “What I do is intuitive … I simply paint these things to explain the world to myself.”[i]
While so much of Coburn’s work involved religion and Catholicism as a subject there is no denying, as you look to his oeuvre, that his work moved to a depth beyond this to function as a form of introverted and spiritual exploration, showing the artist’s necessity to connect and make sense of the world around him.
Coburn’s original work in the early 50’s began as figurative; however, it quickly evolved into abstract forms concerned with the urban environment and soon turned to the environment in all senses of the word.
He noted that “during the 50’s you could say that art was generally concerned with emotions, with expressing feeling and it did this through its relationship with nature,”[ii] an ethos which has seemingly spurred throughout Coburn’s work over the decades.
In his mature years the artist returned to figurative forms within the realm of his typical abstracts, “I’m calling the series, Ah, What is Man? Not so much in a biblical context as a simple poetic statement about the evolution of man’s awareness of himself and his soul and his being in the world.”[iii] A testament of the artist’s growth and spiritual evolution spanning his career.
Coburn carried with these notions of nature and spirituality his definitive use of radiant colour and expression which he developed early on.
As we look now to his 1984 artwork Earth Dance we experience in perfect harmony all of these nuances a-typical of Coburn’s work.
Here we can see the maturity and highly developed technical skills of an artist who has dedicated decades to consistent practice.
There is a sense of depth and continuity in the landscape depicting the artists ability to thrust the background forward so that it is not ignored, the background becomes a form in its own right, just as equally the symbols in the foreground radiate with life.
In brilliant symmetry we experience a sense of celebration of nature, and of life and renewal within the landscape.
We can see Coburn’s distinct ability to capture so many element in a single frame – in an abstract painting that is at once a simple horizon and floating shapes, at depth is an illustration of much more; a feeling, an atmosphere, sounds and shapes, it is a life force – it breathes life, animation, and celebration.
“Because Coburn’s work is largely about change, growth, renewal, progression and transformation, there is an inherent movement in his painting. This is most obvious in his nature paintings. With his impeccable eye for placement the shapes are allowed their life movement. So here the dance of life takes place through, above and below the earth.”[iv]
[i] [i][i]Juddery, B. (1969, January 22). Having his say on canvas. The Canberra Times1969, 13.
[iii] Amadio, N. (1988). John Coburn, Paintings. Roseville, N.S.W.: Craftsman House, 188.
[iv] Amadio, N. (1988). John Coburn, Paintings. Roseville, N.S.W.: Craftsman House, 138