Visiting the John Nixon and Brent Harris Exhibitions

With an impressive roster of exhibitions over the summer, from the extraordinary survey of Emily Kam Kngwarray at the National Gallery of Australia to Know My Name: Australian Women Artists at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, we have been spoilt for choice. Alongside these exhibitions, two other standouts are John Nixon – Four Decades, Five Hundred Prints at Geelong Gallery, and Brent Harris: Surrender & Catch at the TarraWarra Museum of Art.

John Nixon – Four Decades, Five Hundred Prints
A captivating exploration of Australian abstract artist John Nixon’s legacy is presented in Four Decades, Five Hundred Prints, thoughtfully curated by Sue Cramer and now showing at Geelong Gallery. This showcase not only delves into Nixon’s entire artistic journey in printmaking but reveals a fascinating array of techniques, ranging from woodcuts and potato prints to screenprints and etchings.

Sue Cramer’s curation adds a unique layer to the experience, guiding visitors through Nixon’s artistic evolution with thoughtful pairings and creating a setting that mirrors the intimacy of the artist’s studio. The decision to leave some prints unframed enhances the immediacy of the encounter, allowing for an intimate engagement with each piece as they lie flush against the walls. John Nixon’s fearless approach to pushing the boundaries of printmaking is evident, with the inclusion of collage and prints on everyday objects like paper bags and newspapers. The experimental spirit gives the exhibition a dynamic edge, inviting viewers into a world where art transcends conventional confines. As you explore the exhibition, the recurring use of the colour orange, a signature element in Nixon’s work, weaves a vibrant thread through the collection, linking commercially produced posters to experimental pieces. 

This exhibition is an immersive invitation to witness an artist’s daring experimentation and evolution over time. Step into this unique experience and let Nixon’s prints take you on a journey beyond the expected. 

John Nixon – Four Decades, Five Hundred Prints is on view at Geelong Gallery until March 11, 2024.

Brent Harris (born 1956) Swamp (No. 8) 2001, screenprint P/P. © The artist. Sold for $4,750

Brent Harris: Surrender & Catch
Brent Harris’ artistic journey is unfurled in the chronological exhibition Surrender & Catch at the TarraWarra Museum of Art in Healesville. The surrealist painter and master print maker’s prolific 40-year career is explored across more than 100 works, encompassing paintings, drawings, studies, and prints. Curated by Maria Zagala and co-presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia, the exhibition offers a comprehensive look at Harris’ stylistic shifts, thematic explorations, and the evolution of his printmaking practice.

Central to the exhibition is the evolving narrative of Harris’ printmaking; the viewer is taken on a privileged journey of refinement and innovation. The Stations 1989, a 14-part series of aquatints, is Harris’ response to the AIDS crisis, and serves as a testament to his ability to evoke deep emotions through simple black and white execution. The Appalling Moment 1995 series introduces playful screenprints, where repeating circles resemble eyes or portals into the artists view, while the Swamp series from 1999-2001 exhibits a unique interplay of subtle grotesqueness and organic structures, created in both screenprints and aquatints.

Where a single exhibition of Harris’ may open one’s eyes to his practice, the variety and diversity of his styles, influences, materials, processes, and themes in this retrospective provide the viewer with a unique opportunity to truly see the world through the artist’s eyes. The exhibition is not just a visual experience and an intellectual journey, it offers a profound understanding of Harris’ oeuvre.

Surrender & Catch stands as a testament to the enduring power of Harris’ art, beckoning audiences to surrender to its emotional resonance and catch the nuanced layers of meaning within each carefully crafted piece.

Brent Harris: Surrender & Catch is on view at the TarraWarra Museum of Art until 11 March, before touring to the Art Gallery of South Australia from 6 July – 20 October 2024.

Hannah Ryan, Prints & Multiples Specialist

Banner Image (detail): John Nixon – Four Decades, Five Hundred Prints Photographer: Andrew Curtis / Image courtesy Geelong Gallery

February 2024