I painted Tiger, tiger, burning bright in 1957 (I had discovered William Blake). It was one of the paintings of that year in which I arrived at my characteristic abstract style, one which I have used in many different ways during my career as a painter.
In 1953, having recently completed four years at the National Art School in Sydney, I had developed certain skills in painting and drawing and a rough knowledge of art history, but I didn’t know what to do with them. Everything seemed to have been done better than I could do it. Then a big exhibition of French Modern Art came to Sydney at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and this was my first view of paintings by Chagall, Matisse, Miro, Picasso, as well as many others by young French artists of the time. It was a revelation to me. After seeing it several times, I knew in which direction I wanted to go.
Over the next few years, my work became increasingly abstract. I was inspired by the new French and American painting which I saw later. I had seen, and copied as a student, examples of Australian Aboriginal art at the Australian museum. I saw it all as a coming together of the new international abstraction and Aboriginal art, with its spiritual reference to the Australian landscape.
In painting Tiger, tiger I tried to express the power and beauty of the tiger and also to capture something of Blake’s poetry. I have always been interested in shapes and, as well as the overall shape of the tiger, I was interested in the negative shapes in the background.
John Coburn 2002