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Australian art

Contemporary art


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Portrait of John Nixon



Robert Rooney


24 Sep 1937 - 21 Mar 2017


Robert Rooney was born and educated in Melbourne, and he attended Swinburne College of Technology 1954-57. Rooney’s career has encompassed painting, collage, prints, music, photography, and commercial art and design. He has exhibited throughout Australia and been included in a number of significant exhibitions including the Biennales of Sydney 1986, 1990 and ‘Cubism and Australian art’, Heide Museum of Modern Art 2009.

Rooney’s 75 portraits of his colleagues and fellow artists were produced between 1978 and 1984. They followed on from his conceptual photo works of the 1970s. Whereas those earlier Instamatic works were presented in grid patterns of order and repetition and showed little concern for technical standards, Rooney wanted his portraits to be as perfect as he could manage. He formulated certain rules, such as using only available light and not cropping the images. Rooney often made portraits on the spur of the moment, however posing was also done in collaboration with the subject. Each portrait had elements pertaining to the subject’s character and work, though these often occurred through chance rather than design.

The four portraits in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection reflect a particular period in Australian art, when the now established artists were beginning their careers. They depict members of the contemporary art scene of the late 1970s to mid 1980s associated with ‘Art + Text’, an Australian art magazine published from 1981-2000.

John Nixon is a Melbourne based artist. In this photograph he is dressed in a bright red shirt, which blends into the similarly coloured wall behind him. This is reminiscent of the artist’s work, which is characterized by minimalist, often monochromatic, paintings and installations. In the 1970s, Nixon’s use of red broke up a predominately brown and black palette. The colour can be seen as an homage to the Russian Constructivist artists who inspired his practice. Nixon has exhibited widely throughout Australia and overseas. His work can be seen in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection.




Media category


Materials used

Cibachrome photograph


19.2 x 29.0 cm image; 19.9 x 29.7 cm sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1996


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Robert Rooney

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history