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John Davis


19 Sep 1936 – 17 Oct 1999

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    twigs, Calico, bituminous paint, cotton thread
    display dimensions variable
    Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Martin Davis and Penelope Davis 2022
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Estate of John Davis/Copyright Agency

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    John Davis

    Works in the collection


  • About

    A pioneer of environmental art and arte povera in this country, John Davis's early sculptural practice was largely informed by the prevailing style of minimal sculpture and hard-edge painting of the mid-1960s, however, by 1971 he began a series of process-based works which were deeply connected to the environment.

    His breakthrough work was produced for the 1973 Mildura Sculpture Triennale: a site-specific installation created on the saltbush-covered bank of the Murray River and using natural materials, including twigs, stones and grass, retrieved from the bush, as well as papier mâché, baling twine, canvas and latex rubber. His use of humble materials was a hallmark of arte povera and against the prevailing tradition of metal sculpture in Australia at that time.

    Davis drew inspiration from the Australian bush, particularly the Mallee country, the Hattah Lakes area, and the Murray River, with the artist often returning to these areas to create ephemeral works in situ. Recurring motifs in his work include rivers and fish, often referred to by the artist as nomads or travellers.

    In 1978, Davis was included in three significant exhibitions, the Fourth Indian Triennale in New Delhi; the Venice Biennale (with Robert Owen and Ken Unsworth); and the inaugural Survey 1 held at the National Gallery of Victoria and AGNSW. Following the ‘70s, Davis’s practice continued to build in scope and importance with some of his most ambitious and significant work produced towards the end of his career in the 1990’s.

    'Nomad' is comprised of 150 fish or ‘nomad’ forms, arranged on the wall in 6 rows of 25. Nomad is of monumental scale yet has a quiet presence. Each of the 150 pieces is distinct from the rest, all are individually formed, painted, and stitched with the handmade, painstaking detail for which the artist is well known.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

Other works by John Davis

See all 6 works