Vale 2023: saluting those we lost this year

ArtsHub salutes the lives and careers of the artists, performers and patrons who took their final curtain call in 2023.
Vale. rear view of stone statue of an angel with wings

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains references to and names of people who have died.

ArtsHub salutes the lives and careers of the artists, performers and patrons who took their final curtain call in 2023.

The global picture

Globally, creatives who shaped the world of fashion, Dame Mary Quant and Spanish vision Paco Rabanne (Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo) said goodbye to the catwalk in 2023.

In music, it was greats such as US crooner Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor, legendary Queen of Rock and Roll Tina Turner, as well as David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young).

In terms of rock, drummer Aaron Spears, Kinks keyboardist John Gosling, Smiths bassist Andy Rourke also died, while singer-songwriters Jimmy Buffett, Sixto Rodriguez (the subject of Searching for Sugar Man), and Lisa Marie Presley also took their final stage call.

Composers that died include Burt Bacharach, Ryuichi Sakamoto (The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence), while screen director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) was another legend lost in 2023.

Famed cartoonist who shaped the pages of Mad magazine Al Jaffee, as well as superhero comic writer and artist Keith Giffen (DC and Marvel) and John Romita Sr (Marvel), signalled the end of an era, while at the other end of publishing, Nobel Prize-winning poet Louise Glück and British author Martin Amis, also died this year.

Turning to screen, it was icon Piper Laurie (Carrie), postwar sex symbol Gina Lollobrigida, 60s sex symbol Raquel Welch, Michael Gambon (Harry Potter‘s second Dumbledore), Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad), Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman), English actor Julian Sands, iconic talk-show host Jerry Springer and Matthew Perry (Friends) who, among others, died this year.

Acclaimed restaurateur and celebrity chef Michael Chiarello and MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo both died at a young age and at the height of their careers.

In Australia more broadly, the year kicked off with the announcement that controversial clergyman, George Pell died in January. Later in the year, it was the much-loved Father Bob Maguire (sitter for Luke Cornish’s Archibald portrait) who died in Melbourne.

Visual arts, craft and design sector

John Olsen (1928-2023)
In April, Australia said goodbye to a legend, with the death of painter John Olsen. In the flood of tributes that rolled out following the news, Olsen was described as ‘a landscape poet’, a ‘titan of the Australian art world’, ‘the Picasso of Australia’ and, by the late Director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon, as ‘up there in the stratosphere’ of Australian artists.

Jack Featherstone (1930-2023)
Landscape painter Jack Featherstone, and a long contributor to the Braidwood Regional Arts Group (NSW) with his passion for painting regional Australia, died in March. At 93, he had had a brush with death the previous year with COVID. It was, however, a long battle with cancer that killed him. (The Guardian)

Tess Horwitz (1952-2023)
Tess Horwitz was a skilled artist and educator, and a fierce climate activist. She saw and created beauty in the world around her. She will be remembered in the lives she touched and the art she created, such as the ACT Bushfire Memorial. She died in January. (Canberra Times)

Joanna Kambourian (1976-2023)
Joanna Kambourian tragically died in a fall while travelling in Baltimore (US). She was just 47, and was on an artist residency. (7 News)

Nola Jones (1938-2023)
A notable Sydney sculptor, and widow of artist Alun Leach Jones, Nola Jones used fibre and mixed media to create fibre works, wall works and sculptures. She died in February.

William Mora (1953-2023)
Melbourne gallerist William Mora died in May, aged 69.  He was the eldest son of the acclaimed artist Mirka Mora and restaurateur and owner of Tolarno Galleries, Georges Mora. 

Jim Allen (1923-2023)
Performance artist, provocateur and educator, New Zealand’s father of experimental art Jim Allen died in June, aged 100.

Tim Klingender (1964-2023)
The visual arts sector mourned the tragic death of the gallerist and auctioneer who brought Aboriginal art to the world, Tim Klingender, in a boat accident off Sydney in July, aged 59.

Peter Maloney (1953-2023)
Moving between painting, photography and collage, Peter Maloney captured the HIV pandemic and held a mirror up to contemporary life. He died in September.

Ted Snell (1949-2023)
A tireless advocate for the arts in Western Australia, Ted Snell leaves a legacy that encouraged students, artists and colleges to strive high. He died unexpectedly in September.

Mrs Esme Timbery (1931-2023)
Bidjigal Elder and senior artist Mrs Esme Timbery, died in a nursing home in October, aged 92. Part of the Aboriginal community of the south-eastern Sydney suburb of La Perouse (NSW), she was known for her decorative shellworked sculptures, which often took the form of Sydney attractions, such as the Harbour Bridge, and small slippers that paid honour to the Stolen Generations.

Mrs Noŋgirrŋa Marawili (1939-2023)
The Yirrkala community in north-east Arnhem Land (NT) mourned the loss of another bold and individual talent, with the death of Yolŋu painter and printmaker Mrs Noŋgirrŋa Marawili, celebrated for her innovative use of printer toner ink on bark. Marawili was a Maḏarrpa/Galpu woman from Baniyala, and a respected Elder in her own right.

Ross Gibson (1956-2023)
Ross Gibson held many professional positions: Centenary Professor of Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra, Professor of Contemporary Arts at the University of Sydney, Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Technology, Sydney, Creative Director at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Senior Consultant producer at the Museum of Sydney. He was also an artist, photographer, writer and poet. He died peacefully in Melbourne in March, at the age of 91. (Thesis Eleven)

Geoffrey Walker (1947-2023)
Geoffrey Walker was a potter, and a great advocate of the medium as the Gold Coast Potters Association (GCPA) Mascot. He was also co-founder of Cronulla Pottery with Paul Bruce, established on the Gold Coast in the early 1980s, before opening Earthworks in Melbourne (which operated through to 2003, when competition from overseas imports finally forced it into liquidation). He died in September.

Khai Liew (1952-2023)
Undoubtedly one of Australia’s most influential and visionary designers, South Australian-based Khai Liew passed away in December. Predominantly known as a furniture designer, his passion was for natural materials and was an incredible mentor to many.

Nick Azidis (1972-2023)
Renowned projection artist and illusionist Nick Azidis died from heart failure in November, while on location at an event. He was 51. Described as a pioneering new media artist, Azidis is perhaps best known for his projections onto building façades. ‘As [he was] one of the world’s leading projection artists, millions in Australia and internationally have seen Azidis’ moving and stunning art. He created a staggering 1800 large-scale light projections in digital and analogue mediums over a 30-year career, where he rarely stopped working,’ said Anna Bourozikas, paying tribute. (Obituary Neo Kosmos)

Performing Arts

Tony Barry (1941-2023)
One of the most recognisable actors in the Australian screen industry, Tony Barry was also one of the most respected and prolific. Dying in late December 2022, he missed our tribute last year.

Renée Geyer (1953-2023)
A soul, jazz, blues and R&B legend, the husky-voiced Renée Geyer died in January, aged 69.

Kevin Jackson (1948-2023)
A much-admired acting teacher, actor, director and critic, Jackson’s influence on the theatre sector was significant. He died in January after a long illness.

Andrew McKinnon (1952-2023)
McKinnon’s sudden death in March shocked and saddened the sector. An impresario for more than 35 years, McKinnon presented many of the world’s greatest singers, actors and musicians in a wide range of theatrical and operatic performances, concerts and recitals throughout Australia and New Zealand. He was 70.

Yunupiŋu (1948-2023)
Yunupiŋu was a great clan leader, a great family man and very much loved. ‘I wish Australian political leaders could have learned more from him,’ wrote Professor Marcia Langton upon his death in April.

Maelíosa Stafford (1957-2023)
The Irish-Australian actor and director, who co-founded the Sydney theatre company O’Punksky’s in 1990 after relocating to Australia, died suddenly at home on Easter Monday.

Barry Humphries (1934-2023)
Humphries, whose reputation was tarnished in later years, is nonetheless remembered as a comic genius for his characters Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and the melancholic Sandy Stone.

Efterpi Soropos  (1962-2023)
Efterpi Soropos, whose work ranged from lighting design for mainstage theatre productions to carefully designed spaces created to comfort the dying, died unexpectedly aged 61.

Joy McKean (1930-2023)
Joy McKean, the first winner of the Golden Guitar, who was also the wife and manager of Slim Dusty, died in May, at the age of 93. (ABC)

Jacqueline Dark (1968-2023)
The ‘indefatigably upbeat’ Australian mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Dark, died in October from a rare form of cancer, aged just 55.

Cal Wilson (1970-2023)
New Zealand-born, Australian adopted comedian Cal Wilson died in October after a short illness. She was 53.

Writing and publishing sector

Gabrielle Williams (1963-2023)
Gabrielle Williams was described as a ‘neon-bright’ talent. Williams suffered a stroke at Readings bookstore where she worked as manager of the Readings Prizes, grants officer for the Readings Foundation and as a bookseller.

Robert Adamson (1943-2023)
Robert Adamson was widely feted in his five-decade career as a poet, publisher and editor, and was colloquially thought of as the “poet of the Hawkesbury River”. He died in late December 2022 and missed our tributes last year, so we honour him here.

Gabrielle Carey (1959-2023)
Author Gabrielle Carey, best known for Puberty Blues (1979) and her Prime Minister’s Non-fiction Award-winning Moving Among Strangers, died in May aged 64. Her last book, in press at the time of her death, is titled James Joyce: A Life. (The Conversation)

Kevin Weldon (1933-2023)
Australian book publisher and philanthropist Kevin Ernest Weldon died in Sydney in November, aged 89. Under Weldon’s direction, the Paul Hamlyn Group revolutionised the selling of books in Australia, breaking free from the established methods of the British publishers. (Books + Publishing)

Chris McKimmie (1946-2023)
Award-winning writer, illustrator and artist Chris McKimmie died in September, aged 77. For many years he was the convenor and originator of the illustration program at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.

John Tranter (1943-2023)
John Tranter was a brilliant poet of urban Australian life and a master of the art of language. He was also a leading driver of the progressive changes that swept over Australian poetry in the last third of the 20th century – the effects of which are still felt in contemporary Australian poetry. (Sydney Morning Herald, The Conversation)

Alf Taylor (1945-2023)
The author and poet Alf Taylor – whose works include Singer SongwriterWindsLong time now, the NSW Premier’s Award-shortlisted memoir God, the Devil and Me and Cartwarra or what? – died in August. (Writing WA)

Edel Wignell (1936-2023)
In February, author, journalist and poet Edel Wignell died after a prolonged illness aged 85. She was an advocate for euthanasia. Wignell wrote mainly for children and was a mentor for young authors. In July 2013 she bequeathed her works and copyright to The Australian Society of Authors. (Read obituary by Hazel Edwards)

Wendy Jenkins (1953-2023)
Long-time Fremantle Press editor, and manuscript assessor Wendy Jenkins died, aged 70. Jenkins spent 40 years at Fremantle Press, formerly known as Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

Critics, arts managers and patrons

Bob Edwards (1930-2023)
Responsible for bringing many of the major international art exhibitions of Australia, Bob Edwards provided the vision for Art Exhibitions Australia (AEA). He was a director of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council, but also contributed to the broader field of museums and galleries. (John McDonald)

Marc Besen AC (1923-2023)
Businessman and philanthropist Marc Besen – the co-founder of what became the Sussan clothing retail group – died in November, aged 99. He was a great patron of the arts through the Besen Family Foundation, and was father of philanthropist, Naomi Milgrom. (Australian Financial Review).

Marielle Soni (1971-2023)
Marielle Soni (née Schwerin) was an independent curator, art consultant and arts writer. She was known for her work as manager of Jilamara Arts centre on Melville Island, inaugural manager of Artbank’s Melbourne showroom (2004-2015) and director of several commercial galleries and art festivals, and also as a key player in the ART + CLIMATE = CHANGE festival. She died in March. (Obituary)

Ron Brownson (1952-2023)
Ron Brownson’s career spanned 45 years at Auckland Art Gallery, first as Curator of Photography and Pacific Art, then as Curator of New Zealand Art, and finally as Senior Curator. He was deeply respected for his scholarship. (Auckland Art Gallery)

Gary Corbett (-2023)
Gary Corbett was Director of Tweed Regional Gallery(1999 to 2005), then Manager of Community Cultural Services at Tweed Shire Council until 2012. He was instrumental in moving the Gallery from its riverfront location and the establishment of the Margaret Olley Arts Centre. (Museums and Galleries NSW)

Simon Crean (1949-2023)
Gallery Chair, former Arts Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Simon Crean is remembered as a Labor true believer and a passionate supporter of the arts. He died in June.

Geoffrey Hatty (1957-2023)
‘This country has lost one of its most experienced and knowledgeable true experts in the 20th century applied arts,’ wrote gallerist Michael Reid, in January on the loss of design collector and trader Geoffrey Hatty.

Elinor Wrobel (1933-2023)
Elinor Dawn Wrobel OAM was a curator, art collector, benefactor and advocate for the visual arts. Her career was as a consultant curator, conservator and cataloguer, specialising in costume, textiles, art, ethnographic material and memorabilia. She worked for the Percy Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne, and in the 1970s she and husband Fred established the Woolloomooloo Gallery. She was also sole trustee of the [John] Passmore Trust. She died in March. (City of Sydney)

Ted Hopkins (1949-2023)
Many remember this remarkable man for his four-goal haul in Carlton’s 1970 VFL Grand Final. But there was so much more to him than simply sporting prowess; he was also a passionate supporter of the arts.

While saluting the above named creatives, we also note the death of an artist and television personality, whose career and life ended in disgrace.

Rolf Harris (1930-2023)
When Rolf Harris died at 93 in May this year, he ended his life as a convicted child abuser. The musician, television personality, painter and actor, often used instruments like the Stylophone and the wobble board, which he invented. He was convicted in England in 2014. (The Guardian)

ArtsHub apologies for anyone we may have missed. Please contact us at and we would be happy to add to this record.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina