The National Art School has been the training ground for some of Australia’s most significant and respected artists. On this page we recognise and pay homage to our alumni who have passed away recently.


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Vale Liz Cotter  (1965-2023)

The National Art School is very sad to hear of the death of alumna Liz Cotter, aged 57, after her long battle with cancer. Liz graduated with a Master of Fine Art in Photomedia from NAS in 2022, and was a talented, engaged, and popular member of the student cohort. Despite debilitating treatment throughout her two years at NAS, Liz’s fierce determination, courage and passion to complete her MFA, became an inspiration to all those around her. She has left a rare gift with her beautiful film Flow: Daily Life on the Event Horizon, seeing life not only through her eyes but through the eyes of someone who has been given a terminal diagnosis.

Liz described her recent work: “We all live on the Event Horizon. The late Paul Virilio argued that we are currently living in an age of chronoscopic time, a time defined by the disruptive immediacy and acceleration of the image cycle. In response to this concept my studio work incorporates a mixed media installation of original, found and constructed footage. The installation incorporates sound, multi-channel video and photographic stills. The work considers this visual and temporal dissonance that Virilio described. It is intended to be an immersive encounter with the shrinking horizons we all confront in light of the natural and human induced disasters that are, increasingly, becoming our daily experience. Using the Event Horizon as a metaphor to further extend my visual art practice, Flow: Daily Life on the Event Horizon explores the frailty of human existence through the prism of my own lived experience of an advanced Cancer diagnosis, one that has afforded me particular clarity or viewpoint from which to consider the world, a view of life from my own Event Horizon.”

Our thoughts are with Liz’s family and friends at this time.


The National Art School is deeply saddened by the loss of John Olsen AO OBE, esteemed alumnus and NAS Fellow who first studied then taught at the School, and one of Australia’s greatest and most respected artists. It was a privilege to be closely connected to John and his family, and to present the last major exhibition of John’s work in 2021, John Olsen: Goya’s Dog, which opened in the NAS Gallery in June 2021.

Featuring more than 50 major works, sketchbooks and drawings, many not seen in public for generations, Goya’s Dog was a celebration and re-evaluation of John’s position as a seminal Australian artist. It followed his creative awakening in Spain in the 1950s through to his extraordinary development as a painter over decades, and the contrasts of darkness and light in his practice and personally in the course of his long career and life.

In an interview in 2021, John described his fascination with Spanish culture on his first trip there. “It was a remarkable experience because Spain was completely isolated from the modishness of the 20th century, it was still the essential heart of Europe. And then as I began to study, I became aware that even though Spain is a bright and sunny country, that its principle painting lay on the basis of tone – Velazquez, Goya, Murrillo – and somehow those earthy tones reverberated the soul of Spain. It was very profound … rather than thinking outwards, it made you think inwards. Still in Australia today, they like the sunny side of the world, whereas the Spanish like the shadow side of the world. I found that very intriguing.”

John Olsen: Goya’s Dog was curated by Steven Alderton, Director and CEO of the National Art School, who was honoured to spend time with the artist in his studio. John was a master of conversation and hospitality as well as the paintbrush.

Alderton said: “Australia has lost one of our truly remarkable and emblematic artists. John redefined the way we see ourselves, our landscapes, our country and our shared identity. He was also a big part of the National Art School over many decades. Recently he said again to me of his love of NAS and faith in the bright future for artists who train at NAS. Working on John’s last exhibition, Goya’s Dog, with John and his son Tim was an absolute pleasure. John spoke of the Spanish influence and of interpreting the peaks and troughs of the human condition. He was a poet of the Australian landscape, an author of Sydney Harbour, a storyteller of our country and a lyricist of humanity. Forever and eternally an artist who shaped our stories. We send our sincere condolences to Tim, Louise and the family.”

Dr John Olsen AO OBE at the opening of his exhibition 'Goya's Dog' at the National Art School, June 2021. Photo: Caterina Pacialeo

Vale Langdon Badger OAM (1931-2023)

The National Art School is sad hear of the death of NAS alumnus Langdon Badger, who died in Adelaide last week at the age of 92 years. Langdon graduated with Honours in the Diploma in Arts and Crafts course in December 1952. Phyllis Shillito was Head of Department and Langdon was a classmate of Tony Parker (Later Parker Furniture).

On graduation, he returned to his birthplace in Adelaide to establish a design firm retailing and providing colour consultancies and design services as “Langdon Badger Furnishings”. In 1954 he designed the Pope Rotary Lawn Mower (later Simpsons).

In the middle to late 1950s, Badger was introducing contemporary timber furniture from the eastern states, including Danish-sourced furniture. As an industrial, furniture and interior designer for more than five decades he provided advice and sold contemporary furniture and textiles from his Adelaide retail store. He retired in 1998.

He was inducted into the Design Institute of Australia’s Hall of Fame in 2016.

In 2015 he returned to NAS for the first time since leaving 63 years before, and was pleased to see the art school was thriving and had finally gained the whole site.

Our thoughts are with his extensive family in Adelaide and Sydney.

Langdon Badger NAS 2015
Langdon Badger c1952

VALE Elinor Wrobel OAM (1933-2023)

The National Art School was saddened to hear of the recent death of long time NAS supporter Elinor Wrobel. For many decades Elinor and her husband Fred Wrobel supported Australian artists by acquiring key artworks for their ever expanding private art collection. Many of these artists were alumni or teachers at the National Art School.

In the 1980s, Fred and Elinor donated artworks to what was then the art department of East Sydney Technical College. These works are now an integral part of the National Art School Collection. Their daughter Edwina also studied at NAS in the 1980s, and continues to exhibit her work today.

Fred and Elinor Wrobel established two important galleries in Sydney: the Woolloomooloo Gallery (1983-95), the John Passmore Museum (2003-2023) and Elinor also founded the Lucy Osborne-Nightingale Museum at Sydney Hospital in 2000.

As well as donating works in the 1980s, Elinor supported the School with generous loans for three major exhibitions held at NAS: Ann Thomson and Contemporaries in 2016, Rayner Hoff: Life and Art 2017, and most recently Captivate: The National Art School and Darlinghurst Gaol in 2022. We were very pleased to welcome her to see the exhibition Captivate last year, one of her last gallery visits.

Elinor had a long and diverse career as a curator, collector, public speaker and gallerist, and will be greatly missed by the many artists she supported. Our thoughts are with her daughters and extended family.

Elinor Wrobel in 2016

Vale Royston Harpur (1938-2023)

The National Art School is saddened to learn of the death of long-standing NAS teacher Royston Harpur.

As a young man Harpur began writing poetry, and studied art with Polish-born painter Maximilian Fuerring before moving to the UK and Malta in 1964.  Harpur became Gallery Manager of the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, and while in London performed in experimental dance pieces with members of the Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham companies, as well as in taking part in Happenings.

On returning to Australia in 1966 he became involved as director and exhibiting artist with the influential Central Street Gallery in Sydney. Two large shows at Gallery A in Sydney and Melbourne established his reputation as an artist, it was at this time that he met several Japanese artists including the famous calligraphist Shotei Ibata, with whom he formed a life-long friendship. Harpur was appointed Curator of European and American Art at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968, the year of the landmark exhibition of colour-field painting and abstract sculpture The Field.

Royston Harpur’s interests in comparative religion, archaeology and philology led him to travel and study in many parts of the world. Most often described as a Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist, he moved to Kyoto in the early 1970s, a formative experience that had a permanent influence on his art making. Interest in East Asian philosophical perspectives and aesthetics impacted a wide group of artists at this time including Stanislaus Rapotec, Yvonne Audette, Peter Upward, John Olsen, Henry Šalkauskas and Ian Fairweather – and the development of Australian abstraction in general.

Harpur held exhibitions of his work in private and public galleries, eg: Maitland City Art Gallery, 1976, the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1980 and the Liverpool Polytechnic, UK, 1982, and his work was included in The Calligraphic Image with Peter Upward and Brett Whiteley at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1976.

In 1973 Head of School John Coburn invited Royston Harpur to teach at the NAS along with Sydney Ball and Peter Upward; unusually none were alumni. Royston Harpur taught Art Theory at NAS for 20 years, retiring in 1992.

This accomplished artist will be greatly missed.

Memorial exhibition for Royston Harpur at: 

Studio W 6 Bourke St Woolloomooloo
Wednesday 10 May to Saturday 13 May 2023. 

Bill Samuels and Royston Harpur 2014

Vale Les Blakebrough (1930-2022)

The National Art School is deeply saddened by the death of esteemed NAS alumnus and Fellow Les Blakebrough, AM. He was a distinguished and ground-breaking ceramic artist with works held in major public collections around Australia and overseas including every Australian state gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, the Royal Palace Collection, Denmark, and the Imperial Palace Collection, Tokyo. In 2005 he was the first artist to be honoured with a solo exhibition in the Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft series, curated by Sydney’s Object: Centre for Australian Craft and Design. Les recently gave one of his beautiful ice porcelain works to the NAS Collection, which was displayed earlier this year in the exhibition Captivate: The National Art School and Darlinghurst Gaol.

Les held many solo exhibitions around Australia and is the recipient of numerous awards including a gold medal from the International Exhibition of Ceramic Art, Italy; Senior Tasmanian of the Year in 2008; and an AM in the Queen’s Birthday 2013 Honours List. Born in 1930 in Britain, he migrated to Australia in 1948 at the age of 18 and, after studying ceramics at NAS from 1955 to 1957, went to an apprenticeship at Sturt Pottery at Mittagong. In 1963 he studied with Takeichi and Kanjiro Kawai in Japan before returning to Australia to become Sturt Workshops Director. From 1972 to 2010 he was Principal Research Fellow of the Ceramic Research Unit at the University of Tasmania.

In 2011 he relocated his personal ceramics studio to Coledale, NSW. Les said, “Before finding my way into the Ceramics studio at NAS I had spent three or four years unsuccessfully trying to become a painter. A chance conversation with an artist friend led to me approaching Peter Rushforth and persuading him to let me enter his course partway through the year.

“There I found an immediate affinity with one of my fellow students, Col Levy, and I joined forces with him in attempting to make classical Chinese glazes. As I remember it, we were the only two young men among a group of perhaps 15 female students. We would cause mayhem in the kiln room by throwing balls of naphthalene into the white-hot furnace, releasing clouds of acrid smoke, to the consternation of everyone around us: Those boys are at it again!”

Of his practice he says, “All my work since 2000 uses Southern Ice Porcelain, a material I developed and particularly value for its cool whiteness and capacity for translucency. One of the processes I have adopted to work with porcelain is that of carving back into the unglazed outer wall of the work, in this case to represent the fluid lines of the ocean. My local environment in Coledale informs what I do; the brooding presence of the sandstone escarpment; the energetic forces of the ocean and the beautiful lines of the waves rising and falling; the dune grasses that move against the vividness of sky.”

Les was an exceptional artist, teacher, researcher and mentor who made an enormous contribution to visual art, craft and design in Australia and will be greatly missed.

Les Blakebrough (pictured right) returned to the National Art School in 1965 to observe a ceramics workshop by Shoji Hamada.
Les Blakebrough became a Fellow of the National Art School in 2021, the school’s highest award recognising those who have made outstanding contributions to Australia’s visual arts.

Vale Sue Blakebrough (née Miles) (1935-2022)

It’s with great sadness we see the passing of NAS Alumni Sue Blakebrough in early November 2022.

Sue attended The National Art School in 1956. She taught in the Southern Highlands and married Les Blakebrough. They traveled to Japan together to study ceramics. On their return, Sue worked alongside her husband at Sturt Workshop . She went on to become a successful Visual Art teacher in the Southern Highlands.

Vale Rodney J Smith Artist and NAS Technician (1948-2022)

It’s with great sadness we see the passing of Rod Smith in early October.

Rod was a graduate of the National Art School and Sydney Teachers College.

He maintained a continuous dedication to making artwork throughout his time as a Technician at the National Art School, where he began working in 1984 until his retirement in 2010.

Rod was respected and loved by all for his infectious personality, as well as his commitment and passionate assistance of the students and staff. His stewardship and guidance of so many of our students saw them establish secure employment in the arts community, in particular here at the National Art School.

His knowledge of our history and the campus itself is legendary, where until recent times he continuously revealed many of its mysterious hidden spaces that enabled storage for his bowerbird traits, nothing was useless, everything had the potential to become a work of art.

Rod was a great mate and shared his time to create and participate in exhibitions, arranged exclusively for him and his colleagues from the National Art School. He continued to keep in touch by visiting the art school frequently, most recently only a few weeks ago.

Rod will be remembered with great fondness by his friends, past students, staff and his colleagues

Bela Ivanyi OAM (1936-2022)

We are saddened by the passing of  NAS alumnus Bela Ivanyi OAM, we extend our condolences to Bela’s family and friends.

Born in Gyor, Hungary, in 1936, Bela emigrated to Australia in 1957 and settled in Sydney. He was awarded a Diploma in Painting in 1968 from the National Art School, East Sydney, and subsequently taught painting and printmaking at the Workshop Art Centre from from 1969 to 1972, at which time he relocated to Cairns. In 1974, Bela joined the Flying Art School and, after acquiring a pilot’s licence, flew to all the major outback centres and remote areas of Australia as a senior lecturer, working with Aboriginal artists in Cape York until 1980. In 1975, he established the Cooee Bay Workshop Winter Art School, south of Yeppoon, Queensland, teaching there for 36 years. Between 1980 and 1993, he worked part-time at Newcastle College of Advanced Education and in Technical and Further Education Colleges teaching painting, drawing and design. He was also a part-time lecturer in painting, drawing and design at City Art Institute and the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, from 1979-92, later lecturing in Art Education at Newcastle University in 2000.

Bela’s passion for plein air painting took him to all states in Australia, although he had a particular affinity for Alice Springs and the Kimberley. Since 1969, he had 35 solo exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and the Central Coast. Group exhibitions included the 1968 Readers Digest Drawing Prize (which he won); Sydney Printmakers’ Survey Exhibition, Blaxland Gallery; Perth Drawing Prize; Australian Graphic Artists’ exhibition, Phillip Bacon Gallery; Art Gallery of New South Wales Wynne Prize (1978, 1981-83); the 2000 Fleurieu Art Prize and the 2003 Kedumba Drawing Award.

A member of the Australian Watercolour Institute since 2003, he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2017 for service to the visual arts, particularly as an educator and mentor.

Merran Esson (1950-2022)

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Merran Esson, former NAS staff member and artist. She was an incredibly loved member of the NAS community, a generous and inspirational educator to countless students, a respected and treasured colleague, and a talented and renowned artist. Merran is remembered for her passion, creativity, artistry and lively sense of humour. We will sorely miss her at the National Art School but will ensure her legacy lives on. Our deepest sympathies are with Kirsty, James, Karen and family.

 Merran was part of the NAS community for a long time starting as a part time lecturer in the Ceramics department from 1983-1996. In 1996, she completed a Certificate of Attainment in Clay and Glaze technology from NAS, after first completing a Diploma in Art and Design at Caulfield Institute of Technology in Melbourne. In 1997, she began working at NAS as a lecturer in Ceramics, and became Head of the Ceramics Department in 2009. She taught and lectured around the world, from Edinburgh College of Art to the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, and closer to home, at Brookvale, Hornsby and St George TAFEs, UNSW and Sydney University. We were very lucky to have had her at NAS for the past twenty years, where she embraced a dual role as an educator and an artist.

Merran was an accomplished ceramicist and worked at the forefront of Australian ceramics for many years. Her work reflected her affinity with the Australian landscape, particularly exploring the contrasts between the country and the city, between man and nature, environmental and industrial. She exhibited extensively in both solo and group exhibitions, and her work is represented in public and private collections, including the Art Gallery of South Australia; Museum for Kunsthhandwerk und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany; Das Institut für Künstlerische Keramik und Glas, Germany; National Gallery of Australia; Western Australian Art Gallery; Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery; Bathurst Regional Art Gallery; Geelong Art Gallery; Queensland University of Technology.

In 2006, she was the recipient of one of the coveted NAS residencies at La Cite International des Arts in Paris, where she took the opportunity to look at rare ceramics collections, research and experiment. In 2008 she won the the Poyntzpass Pioneers Award of Merit at the Shepparton Ceramic Award. In 2019 she was the winner of both the Ceramic component of the Muswellbrook Art Prize and the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize with her Monaro Tree series.

She presented as the keynote speaker at the International Ceramics and Tea Symposium in Taipei and at the ASNA Clay Triennial in Karachi, Pakistan. In 2016, she was the master presenter at the Clay Gulgong Triennial and was also made a member of the International Academy of Ceramics at their congress in Spain, a rare honour for an Australian artist.

She collected a diverse and invaluable number of ceramic works by other artists throughout her life, and documented them in a recent publication Merran Esson: A Life of Collecting.

As Head of Ceramics, Merran was an enthusiastic and tireless advocate for the art form, which resulted in consistent and growing numbers of students taking up a Ceramics major. To her ceramics staff and students, she held an attitude of professional respect, generosity and warmth, and was always approachable and caring. The students were fortunate recipients of her scientific knowledge of glazes and firing techniques, and her love of handbuilding.

To the wider world, Merran actively promoted the National Art School, and all of the values it stands for. She will be greatly missed.

Five former NAS Heads of Ceramics, Orange Regional Gallery 21st February 2014 L-R Bill Samuels, Roswitha Wulff, Peter Rushforth, Graham Oldroyd, Merran Esson
Merran in the NAS studios 2010

Graham Oldroyd (1953-2022)

We are very sad to hear of the recent passing of artist Graham Oldroyd. Born in Bulli, Wollongong in 1953, Graham studied at the National Art School, then East Sydney Technical College, in the 1970s, developing an interest in Islamic ceramic forms and glazes.

He began lecturing at NAS in 1977, was Head of Ceramics from 1980-1984, then became Head of the Ceramics Division for TAFE NSW. One of Graham’s most well-known works is the large ceramic mural he created with painter Michael Ramsden for the new Parliament House in Canberra in 1986-7. In 1988 he and fellow ceramicist Phillip Lakeman formed Lakeman Oldroyd Architectural Ceramics, working on many architectural commissions in Asia. Graham lived in Bali for some time before moving to Perth in 2019.

His highly accomplished practice also included drawing and painting, and his works are held in many collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum London, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Artbank, Powerhouse Museum, Australian Embassy Cairo, Hota, Manly Art Gallery and Wollongong Art Gallery.

As a teacher and artist he played a crucial role establishing ceramics as contemporary art practice, moving beyond the common perception of craft. NAS’s Head of Ceramics Lynda Draper studied under Graham while a student here in the 1980s, he was a mentor and inspiration. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Madeleine Preston (1968-2022)

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Madeleine Preston, NAS alumna, staff and artist. Madeleine was much-loved by the NAS community and lectured in the ceramics department for five years. She was fiercely intelligent, a talented artist and writer, and dedicated teacher and supporter of her peers. Her art practice spans a range of media including painting, sculpture and installation, using art historical references to investigate how attitudes of the past inform the present. With her partner Anthony, she founded Home at 725 Art Gallery in Redfern. Our deepest condolences to Anthony, her family and friends at this difficult time. This is a great loss to our community.

Nigel Butterley (19352022)

Only weeks before his 87th birthday, the Australian composer Nigel Butterley has died peacefully at his Sydney nursing home.  Along with Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014) and Richard Meale (1932-2009), Butterley created a new, contemporary outlook for Australian music with a substantial body of music, from tiny chamber pieces to vast orchestral works and epic song cycles.

Butterley had strong connections to the National Art School.  As well as attending a number of seminal NAS performances, he performed in the Cell Block for a period spanning ten years – mostly as a pianist, but also as conductor, singer and composer.  In 1967 he directed Interaction – Music and Painting in the Cell Block Theatre.  In this work, which was filmed by the ABC, the 22-year-old John Peart (NAS teacher 1978-1999) spontaneously painted while Butterley improvised on the piano and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra played a series of pre-composed fragments.  And in 1969 Butterley created the first Australian performance of John Cage’s Complete Sonatas and Interludes for Piano on the Cell Block Theatre’s grand piano.  Butterley had spent a couple of hours preparing the piano with nuts, bolts and screws for this piece, having received instructions on how to set it up in a letter from Cage.

In April 2011 Nigel Butterley returned to the Cell Block Theatre to perform another John Cage piece for prepared piano for the launch of the book Set in Stone.

Nigel Butterley and his partner of 44 years, Tom Kennedy, were also keen art lovers, accumulating a substantial collection, including work by NAS alumni such as John Coburn, James Gleeson, Robert Klippel, Oliffe Richmond and John Peart.

Launch of Set in Stone publication in the Cell Block Theatre

PETER POWDITCH (1942–2022)

The National Art School is saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Powditch, NAS Fellow.

Peter was a wonderful, ground-breaking artist and member of the NAS community, who studied here in the 1960s, then later taught here, and was appointed as a NAS Fellow in 2017. In his citation for Peter at the Fellows Ceremony, fellow alumnus and NAS sculpture teacher Ron Robertson Swann recalled: “Peter and I did have some differences in our teaching methods. Along with imparting the great joy of art, Peter had the compulsion to warn students about the self-doubt, loneliness and despair… and I’d say ‘Christ Peter, don’t mention that ‘til third year!’” In 1981, Peter was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to Art. To read more about his life and practice see ArtsHub’s story.

The National Art School extends condolences to all of Peter’s family and friends.

KAYE SHUMACK (1953–2021)

The National Art School is saddened to hear of the passing of Kaye Shumack, MFA student.

Kaye joined the NAS MFA 1 drawing cohort in 2020, a disrupted year for us all. For Kaye it was more difficult than we realised. Mid-year she let us know she had advanced cancer and was taking time off to manage treatment and pain. We all admired not just Kaye’s remarkable drawings but also her considered, insightful and affirming contributions to conversations about our work and theoretical concerns. I was fascinated by Kaye’s mark-making – her use of buoyant line-work built up drawings of the inner West that are inhabited by the energy or spirit of the place. Kaye loved being at NAS, her relationships with fellow students and supervisors and her light-filled studio where she could focus on making work. We’re thankful for the opportunity to know Kaye and pleased that thanks to her generosity, she will be remembered through the Kaye Shumack Sunflower Drawing Prize, an annual award of $3000 for an MFA Drawing graduate whose work contributes to broadening awareness of social issues. We look forward to creating a special place for Kaye’s work in our MFA Postgraduate exhibition.

The National Art School extends condolences to all of Kaye’s family and friends.

After the Fire at the General Gordon Hotel, Sydenham
Finalist in the JADA in 2018

MEG BUCHANAN (1949–2021)

The National Art School is saddened to hear of the passing of Meg Buchanan, Head of Printmaking (1999-2001).

Meg Buchanan was born in 1949 and initially trained in painting at the Newcastle School of Art (1968- 1971) before studying etching in Paris and New York. She was awarded an MA (Visual Arts) from Monash University in Melbourne in 1998. From 1974 Buchanan lectured in tertiary institutions throughout Australia and overseas. Her most senior appointments included Head of Foundation Studies at the ANU School of Art (1992-1998) and Head of Printmaking at the National Art School in Sydney (1999 — 2001). As well as teaching she was the co-founder and Director of the Studio One print workshop in Canberra. Her work is represented in major public collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the Canberra Museum and Gallery and the New York University and has been included in major curated exhibitions including “Capital Works”, which toured Asia, the Biennale of Drawing in Canberra and “Five Years On” at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. In 2007 Meg Buchanan was the subject of a major solo exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

The National Art School extends condolences to all of Meg’s family and friends.

JAMES BALLAAM (1995–2021)

The National Art School is saddened to hear of the passing of Alumnus James Ballaam. James completed the Bachelor of Fine Art (Painting) in 2016. He is remembered fondly as a distinction student.

The National Art School extends condolences to all of James’s family and friends.

GEORGE SCHWARZ (1935–2021)

The National Art School is saddened to learn of the death of photographer, film maker, painter, printmaker and former NAS teacher George Schwarz on the 28th May 2021.

Born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1935, George studied at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers, Basel from 1953 to 1957, before moving to Spain in 1958.

He met Australian born Charis on a beach in southern Spain when they were in their twenties. In the 1960s Charis and George bought a large BMW motorbike and set off to ride from Spain to Australia. They documented their travels in an exhibition and wrote a sold-out book Highlights of the Road, which described in images and text their motorcycle travels through all the world’s continents from 1965 to 1968.The now famous BMW is held in the Collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

In 1969 they settled in Sydney, and George taught photography at the National Art School from 1970 to 1974. He had been teaching painting and drawing part time at NAS, and was asked to teach photography full-time, helping to implement and write the first photography course at NAS. George was renowned for bringing a huge variety of life models in for students to photograph, including the notorious Madame Lash (Gretel Pinniger), who posed clad in leather and sporting a variety of whips.

George continued teaching at Alexander Mackie School of Art and City Art Institute until 1997. George and Charis made art and film together for over 60 years. Their erotic films of the 1970s were witty and humorous – Sex aids and how to use them became Australia’s highest grossing short film at the time, with people queuing around the block to see it.

The significance of photography as a device to record time is central to many of his works. Using a variety of unexpected assemblages of visual images, George created surreal layers of meaning, blurring the line between the real and symbolic, life and art. He held numerous exhibitions at Stills Gallery, and his work is widely collected and published. In 2017 he donated 8 works and his teaching archive to the NAS Collection.

Our thoughts are with Charis and all of George’s friends, associates and former students. He will be greatly missed.


1. Charis and George Schwarz, 1965

2. George Schwarz
Home_24 (self portrait) 2013
Digital print
NAS Collection

3. Charis and George Schwarz outside their house in Riley Street, East Sydney 2017  Photo: Deborah Beck

TONY WHITE (1942–2020)

The National Art School was sad to hear of the death of world renowned jeweller Tony White. He was born in 1942 in Sydney, and attended Saturday art classes at the National Art School when still a child. He later trained in architecture, graduating from Sydney University in 1965, and practised as an architect for five years in both Sydney and Melbourne. During this time he became interested in jewellery.

In 1971 White began working full-time as a jeweller, and began exhibiting his work with Philip Bacon Galleries in Brisbane in 1974. He travelled extensively in Africa, Asia, Europe and America, collecting rare stones for his exquisite and individual works.

His work has been exhibited around the globe and has been highly regarded and worn by world leaders and celebrities.  It is also held in major collections in Australia and overseas. White had only recently returned to painting.

It is hoped that his first classes at the National Art School provided a springboard for his illustrious career and we send our sympathies to his family and friends.


The National Art School was saddened to hear of the death of Frank Watters, who died peacefully at his home on 21 May 2020. Along with with Geoffrey and Alexandra Legge, he was a founder and director of Watters Gallery between 1964 and 2018.

Watters Gallery was one of the most important and innovative private galleries in Sydney for over 50 years. Since the 1960s, the gallery has exhibited the work of hundreds of artists, many of whom have strong links to the National Art School. These artists included James Gleeson, Robert Klippel, Euan Macleod, Roger Crawford, Vivienne Binns, Joe Frost, John Peart, Frank Littler, Tony Tuckson and Chris O’Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa). Franks discerning eye meant that some of these artists were first shown by Watters gallery when they had just finished studying at the art school. In many cases he continued to show their work until the gallery closed two years ago.

Frank was also a closely involved in the avant-garde performances which were performed in the Cell Block Theatre. Many former students remember the ‘happening’ –‘A One Way Ticket to Sunshine’, written by National Art School students, rehearsed for 6 months in Watters gallery, and performed in the Cell Block Theatre in 1970. As well as this Frank performed himself alongside Daniel Thomas in a concert called Acoustic Space in the Cell Block Theatre in 1969.

In 1988 Frank Watters was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to art, and in 2013 we recognised his outstanding contribution to Australian art and culture, and his longstanding support and friendship with the National Art School by awarding him a Fellowship of the NAS.

The National Art School extends condolences to all of Frank’s family and friends.


The National Art School is deeply saddened by the news that Tily Kubany-Deane, a wonderfully talented, creative and joyful NAS alumna has passed away.

A private family service was held, her ashes scattered in her favourite places in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, including West Head Lookout.

Our condolences go out to her husband and fellow NAS alumni Sean Wadey, and their families.


The National Art School is deeply saddened by the news that Andrew ‘Greedy’ Smith, one of the founding members of iconic Australian band Mental as Anything, has died.

Smith attended the National Art School in the 1970s, then East Sydney Tech, where he met band members and fellow art students Chris O’Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa), Martin Murphy (Martin Plaza), David Twohill (Wayne DeLisle) and Steve Coburn.

Smith was already in a covers band with a school mate from North Sydney Boys, but first played with the Mentals in December 1976, at the Anthony Doherty Community Centre Hall in Darlinghurst. He also appeared with them at the Unicorn Hotel near the art school, where the band had a regular gig. He played harmonica at first but after being invited to join as a permanent member, was urged to start playing keyboards.

“Martin thought I was sitting around too much reading the paper and going to the bar between my songs,” Smith recalls in the book The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa, published in 2009. “He and I went out to Epping where we bought an old Farfisa wedding reception organ. I was playing it that night. It was just one-handed stuff but because it was the era of punk bands, I could get away with it.

“Anyway, I always made a point not to learn too much about music because I think it interferes with song writing – the more you know about music, the more you know you can’t do. But if you write your own songs, people can’t say you’re playing it wrong.”

The band’s first gig with their final line up – Martin, Greedy, David, Chris and his brother Peter O’Doherty, was at the National Art School’s Cell Block Theatre on August 17, 1977, the night Elvis died.

The name Mental as Anything had been chosen earlier by another National Art School student, Paul Worstead, who had booked them for a gig at the Settlement in Chippendale. Worstead went on to design the cover of Mental As Anything’s first album Get Wet, released in 1979.

The school is proud to have been the crucible for the band that has held such a special place in the Australian music scene for generations.

In the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, Mombassa said he would remember his friend and bandmate as “the most positive and cheerful person I have ever met in my life”.

“He was a decent guy, he was kind to people, he cared about people,” Mombassa said. “The way he was on stage, that joyous stage presence was genuine, he was like that off stage, he cared about his fans and gave them the time of the day.”

Steven Alderton, Director and CEO of NAS, says, “Greedy Smith was an exceptional artist who could light up a room with his many talents. He was part of a golden age at the National Art School when many talented visual artists became members of bands, plying their considerable creative skills on many platforms. We will certainly miss him.”

Greedy Smith will be greatly missed and mourned by many. The National Art School would like to extend its sympathy to his friends and family.

JO MEISNER (1954-2019)

Jo Meisner was not only a dear friend to many. She was a driven, passionate and compassionate artist making exciting and engaging art. Alluring, colourful, light-filled works that draw people in to look, wonder and relate, often prompting a sharing of their own stories of that aspect of human experience which so fascinated Jo – how we can be together yet apart – the lonely crowd. – Lisa Sharp, Artist

Jo (Joanne) Meisner was born in Sydney. Jo attended the School of Fashion, East Sydney Technical College between 1971 – 4, at that time the first dedicated fashion design school in Sydney. Subsequently, she held a professional career in the fashion industry for thirty-seven years, owning and managing multiple stores and mentoring women in business.

In 2012 Jo returned to that same campus in Darlinghurst, now the National Art School, where she applied her characteristic intensity, curiosity and passion to the visual arts. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours (Painting) in 2016. In a second career that was to be all too short, Jo had built a strong reputation for her vibrant figurative works and had held four solo and numerous group exhibitions, most significantly a solo exhibition in Paris in 2018 with work following from a residency in 2017. Her works often featured textiles, layered with photography and other media, driven by an underlying socio-political commentary. Jo’s fascination and affinity for cloth drew on her past, as she explored the divergent qualities of cloth as tactile source of comfort and protection but also a politicised marker of individual as well as communal identity. Jo used to say of her ongoing fascination with textiles, we are wrapped in cloth from birth to death.

Jo passed away peacefully, after a brief final illness in September 2019, leaving her loving husband Phillip, children Ben, Joshua and Sam, grandchildren and a large and loving crowd of family and friends. We will all miss her special warmth and empathy.

“Belonging is central to how we define who we are.

It is our connection to social groups and society as a whole

that is most important in constructing this sense of identity.

This is a fundamental aspect of what I feel it is to be human.”

Jo Meisner


The National Art School is very sad to hear of the loss of alumnus Klaus Friedeberger who died in London at the age of 97 on the 19th September 2019.

Klaus Friedeberger was born into a secular Jewish family in Berlin in 1922. In April 1939, the young Friedeberger arrived in England as a refugee and not long afterwards was arrested as an enemy alien. He was then sent on the infamous ship HMT Dunera to an internment camp to Australia for two years in Hay, NSW. Among his fellow internees were a number of distinguished artists and art historians who together formed an informal academy. Friedeberger designed a number of posters, painted scenery for stage productions and painted a large number of watercolours while in the camp. After a stint in the Australian army corps, he took the opportunity to study painting for three years under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme (CRTS) at East Sydney Technical College, the National Art School. His fellow CRTS students included Fred Schonbach, Guy Warren, Tony Tuckson, Oliffe Richmond and John Coburn.

After he graduated from the NAS, Friedeberger won the 1949 Mosman Art Prize. The prize money enabled him to sail for Europe and after 10 years in Australia, he returned to London in 1950. While his intended return to Australia never happened, he remained in close contact with many of his Australian friends, particularly fellow student and artist Guy Warren.

Friedeberger set up a studio in Chelsea and began exhibiting, working as graphic designer and teaching in art schools. He held many exhibitions throughout his life, with a major retrospective exhibition of over sixty works held at Woodlands Art Gallery in Blackheath, London in 1992.

A prolific and much respected artist in the UK, his work is held in the permanent collections of the Sydney Jewish Museum, the British Museum, London, the National Gallery of Australia and the Agapitos/Wilson collection, Sydney. His work was also included in the Lines of Fire: armed forces to art school at the NAS gallery in 2008. The NAS Collection holds 12 of his student works, and 4 drawings from the 1980s. One of his NAS student works was included in the book, Bauhaus Diaspora and Beyond, launched in Sydney this year.

The National Art School extends condolences to Klaus Friedeberger’s wife Julie and his many friends.

See the Guardian’s Obituary for Klaus here. 

Klaus Friedberger, London 2017
Klaus Friedeberger Sydney 1949. Photo: Kerry Dundas

TOM THOMPSON (1923-2019)

The National Art School is very sad to hear of the loss of alumnus and former staff member

Thomas Alexander (Tom) Thompson, who died in Sydney at the age of 95 on the 13th July 2019.

Born on the 16 November 1923 in Narrabri, NSW, Tom studied at the National Art School on a Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scholarship (CRTS) from 1947 to 1950 after serving in World War Two as a tank gunner in Bougainville. His fellow students included Tony Tuckson, Guy Warren, Bert Flugelman, John Coburn and Robert Klippel. A talented student, he graduated with a Painting Diploma and was awarded the College Medal.

After finishing his studies, he went to England where he worked as a night watchman for the National Gallery in London. After a period overseas, he taught at the South Australian School of Art from 1952 to 1955.

Tom returned to the National Art School as a teacher in 1955, teaching painting and drawing for over 20 years. A great chronicler of events, he helped preserve the NAS Collection, and did many drawings of the site, its history and its occupants. Fifty-seven of his drawings of fellow artists are held in the State Library of NSW, and many of these are of teachers at the NAS. From 1975 to 1976 he was Head of the School of Art and Design before resigning to paint full time in his studio in Braidwood, NSW.

Influenced by Italian renaissance painting, Tom painted a number of large murals during his career. His commissioned works included murals for the International Air Terminal at Mascot, Sydney, three panels in tempera for Australia House, London, and a major mural for Parramatta City Council depicting the early days of the city.

His work was included in the Tate Gallery Exhibition of Australian Art, 1963, and he exhibited widely throughout Australia as well as undertaking a number of study tours of Europe. Thompson’s work was exhibited in The Studio Tradition, Manly Art Gallery, 2001, and Lines of Fire in the NAS Gallery in 2008, and ten of his student works are represented in the NAS Collection. His work is held in the National Gallery of Australia, State galleries in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Wellington, New Zealand.

The National Art School extends condolences to Tom’s family and friends. He will be greatly missed by his former colleagues and many students.

Tom Thompson 2013. Photo: Cat Sparks
Tom Thompson at the National Art School in 1948.


From his parents, Lorraine and Robert Roberts
28 February 2019

Our beautiful son, James Edwin Roberts, ex- Nambour and Burnside High School student in the nineteen eighties, son of Lorraine and Bob Roberts, was killed in an incomprehensible, tragic accident when he fell from his bicycle, on the 11th of February because of a mechanical failure. Though wearing a safety helmet, he still sustained a massive brain injury. The police believe that sadly too many people become complacent, thinking that a helmet will protect them for receiving serious head injuries. A warning.  James has worked at the Sydney Opera House as a stage mechanist for the last 16 years, and was studying at the National Arts School. He was due to start a Master of Fine Arts degree that he had intended to follow up with a PhD soon after that. James had planned to return to Nambour to take care of his aging parents as soon as he completed his PhD.

We hope James’ friends will remember him as the fun loving kind and caring soul that he is. A book is being produced to honour his life and gift as an artist. Anyone of his friends wishing to contribute anecdotes for publication in this book and to later obtain a copy of the book can contact his parents on [email protected]  for more information.

Some may remember James and a friend performing a piece about saving the trees, in the forecourt of the Nambour Council and Library in 1984. As well as his interest in the environment, James was a member of the Palmwoods Players theatre group, appearing in Cinderella and working on set design. His prize winning characterisation performance of King Henry V in our local Eisteddfod may be remembered. James’ many other interests included: a passion for vintage old objects and a wide taste in music. James was an advocate of the fair go and had a special interest in and empathy with people who were struggling.

James was a much loved son and will be greatly missed by his parents, his sister Muria Roberts and niece Amyra Roberts Prayoga, and also his wide circle of family and friends. Cyclists, young and old, do be careful while riding. Safety helmets cannot always provide full head protection.

JAMES BARKER 1931-2019

James Barker (b1931) Northwood – a bushy suburb of Sydney near the Lane Cove National Park.

Barker graduated from East Sydney Technical College in 1955. Fellow students in James’s year were a close knit group of artists which include Ron Lambert; Robin Lawrence; Georgina Worth; Barbara Holliday (Romalis);Wendy Learmonth; Didi (Diana) Vale-Brown.

Other students at East Sydney in the same period included Karen Oom ; Cam Sparks; Ursula Latham ( Laverty) and Elisabeth Cummings. Elisabeth was to join James in Florence some years later, where they were married and spent the ensuing years painting teaching and travelling throughout Europe.

During the period in Florence James and Elizabeth had a constant stream of visiting travellers from Australia many of them fellow art students from East Sydney. In late 1968 Elisabeth and James returned to Australia with their young son Damian, born in Florence just shortly prior to the historic and catastrophic floods of 1966.

Back in Australia, Elisabeth and James painted in and around Coal and Candle Creek, then after the commencement of the building of the “Mud Hut” at Wedderburn, Barker was very much inspired by the surrounding bush and the George’s river which was not far away. Barker painted the bush around Church Point and latterly around the southern banks of the Hawkesbury River around Brooklyn.

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