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Vale Bill Wright AM 1937-2014

Madeleine Dore

Australian artist and curator Bill Wright AM passed away on Friday night
Vale Bill Wright AM 1937-2014

Bill Wright AM by Jasper Knight, Archibald Finalist 2010. Image:

Distinguished Australian artist, curator, gallery director and lecturer Bill Wright AM, whose work was exhibited extensively locally and internationally, has died.

Director of the National Art School Michael Snelling advised the much respected and loved alumnus, lecturer and Fellow ‘passed away peacefully at home, where he wanted to be, with Hilary and his family on Friday night.’ 


Wright completed a Diploma in Painting in 1958 at the National Art School in Sydney, among fellow students Elisabeth Cummings, Jamie Barker, Frances Long, Brian Dunlop, Keith Looby, Ross Morrow and Colin Lanceley.

He went on to study painting and sculpture in Florence at the Academia di Belle Arti, and graphics at the Central School of Art and Design in London.

Wright’s first exhibition in 1966 in Edinburgh was soon followed by exhibitions in London, Sydney with Rudy Komon Gallery, and in Melbourne with Tolarno Gallery.

Between 1970 and 1980 he continued to work abroad and lectured in many prestigious institutions throughout the UK and the USA, holding a number of senior positions including Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art in London, Associate Dean of the New York Studio School, and Dean of Visual Arts at the State University of New York at Purchase.

Wright returned to Australia in late 1980s to direct the 4th Biennale of Sydney, Vision in Disbelief, commencing what would become a distinguished curatorial career.

Soon after, Wright was appointment as Assistant Director (Professional) with the Art Gallery of New South Wales where he would stay till 1991. Following his departure from AGNSW, Wright took up the role of Curatorial Director with Sherman Galleries till 2005, and over recent years he focused on the creation of William Wright Artist Projects, exhibiting the work of both established and emerging Australian Artists.

In 2002, Bill Wright was awarded the Australia Council Emeritus Medal for services to the Visual Arts, Curatorship and Education. In 2003, he was appointed Member, Order of Australia, AM, for services to art, curatorship, art education and the support of artists. In 2010 Bill was awarded the Fellowship of the National Art School, in recognition of his service to the visual arts in Australia and his long-standing support of the National Art School, its staff and its students.

‘Bill has supported and enhanced the careers of countless Australian artists including many NAS graduates. We are proud to have counted Bill as a member of the NAS community,’ said Snelling.  

Remarkably, Bill continued to paint almost every day throughout this distinguished and busy career.

In 2010, Bill Wright was the subject of an Archibald Finalist by Australian artist Jasper Knight.

‘I’ve known Bill for about ten years,’ said Jasper Knight. ‘Choosing a subject for the Archibald can be quite a cynical exercise so it was nice to paint someone I know.

‘Although he is such a big legend in the arts world, he is so humble, relaxed and fun to be around, and a very generous person.’

Along with his outstanding contribution to the arts, Wright will be remembered for his remarkable character, ‘He remained passionate, eternally curious and engaged and played a key role in securing independence for NAS. 

‘He was involved with NAS to the end – exhibiting staff and graduates, teaching until last year and always keen to discuss the future. To his family and friends we extend our deepest condolences,’ said Snelling.

About the author

Madeleine Dore is a freelance writer and founder of the interview project Extraordinary Routines. She is the previous Deputy Editor at ArtsHub and dedicated to communities that encourage entrepreneurial and artistic careers. Follow her on Twitter at @RoutineCurator