Vale 2021: Saluting those we lost

ArtsHub salutes the lives and careers of the artists, performers and patrons who took their final curtain call in 2021.

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

Globally, these past two years – lived in the grip of a devastating pandemic – saw many creatives and supporters of the arts leave us. It is a loss that we are still yet to fully comprehend in terms of its impact.

From Princes to politicians, it was early in the year that Australia mourned the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (and husband to the Queen) aged 99, while Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state and whose leadership helped shape foreign policy in the last years of the 20th century, died from COVID-19 complications in October.

At home Australian politician Sir James Gobbo, Former Victorian Governor has died at 90 in November, while living in America, former leader of the Australian Liberal Party, Andrew Peacock died aged 82.

In the visual arts and design sector internationally, we lost Virgil Abloh, the fashion designer who founded Louis Vuitton’s Off-White label, while screen fashionista, Willie Garson, best known for his portrayal of Stanford Blatch in “Sex and the City,” died at the age of 57.

Screen news of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins’ death on set, in the freak accident of a mis-fired prop gun, rocked the sector, as did the loss of legends, actor Christopher Plummer in February (91), and broadcaster Larry King in January (87), was felt deeply.

In music, we farewelled ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill, and drummer Charlie Watt, described as the quiet backbone of The Rolling Stones, who died in August aged 80. Australian singer-songwriter Anita Lane, perhaps best known for her work with Nick Cave and his fellow Bad Seed Mick Harvey, was also a loss.

But it is Broadway icon, songwriter Stephen Sondheim who’s legacy runs deepest. He was known for his musicals Sweeney Todd (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), and Into the Woods (1987) – netting him six Tony Awards for best original score. He died at the age of 91 (November).

And music producer Phil Spector, who worked alongside everyone from the Beatles to the Ronettes, (and was later convicted of murder), also passed away in 2021. And, farewelled but not forgotten, controversial publisher Larry Flint, who created the magazine Hustler, also closed the page in 2021.

Australia also lost its share of creative souls in 2020. We salute the passing of many talented and inspiring people from our arts community.


Virginia Fraser (1947-2021)

Melbourne artist Virginia Fraser is well remembered for her photo media works, her spirit to collaborate, advocacy for women artists and her sensitivity when writing about others. She is best known for her video and installation works, often made in collaboration with her long-time partner, artist Destiny Deacon. She passed away in January. Read her obituary.

Ethel Thomas (1946-2021)

Mrs Ethel Thomas was a loved member of MI Art Centre, and her passing in March had a deep impact on community. Born on Bentinck Island (QLD), ‘she was passionate about family, Country and culture and these were the things that influenced her art, and her conversations around these things. She always acknowledged her Aunty Sally [Gabori] who introduced her and her sisters to art,’ remembered MI Arts.

Arone Raymond Meeks (1957-2021)

Ku Ku Imidiji man, Arone Raymond Meeks died peacefully in Cairns after a short battle with cancer (May). Meeks was a founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, and had played a pivotal role on the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CAIF) Board of Directors. His artworks often engaged themes arising out of his concern with the issues of land rights, sexuality, Indigenous health care, cultural values and place. He was 64. Read his obituary.

Mandy Martin (1952-2021)

Adelaide-born painter Mandy Martin was brave on many counts. She faced a long battle with cancer with dignity, and a long career with a passion for the issues that count. She is known for her role in the early chapters of feminist art in Australia from the mid-1970s, and her later work which was motivated by the ‘urgency to address the major issues of land use and exploitation in Australia. Martin died in July at the age of 69. Read her obituary.

Dr B Marika AO (1954-2021)

The pioneering Arnhemland woman artist, cultural activist and environmental adviser Banduk Mamburra Marika died in Yirrkala in July, aged 66. She was a member of the renowned Marika family of artists and activists, and was taught traditional bark painting by her father, Mawalan (1908–1967), who in 1963 helped initiate Australia’s first Aboriginal land rights case. She carried that legacy of activism, and in 1994 was involved in the successful copyright case when the Federal Court ruled against a company that had produced counterfeit carpets based on her print, ‘Djanda and the Sacred Waterhole‘.

For a period she managed the Buku-Larrnggay Arts Centre, and in 2002 received the Australia Council’s Red Ochre Award, won the Best Bark Prize at the 2005 Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, was the first Indigenous board member at the National Gallery of Australia, and served also on Bangarra Dance Theatre board. She was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2019.

Damiano Bertoli (1969-2021)

Loved for his witty creativity as an inspiring artist, writer and teacher, founding member of Melbourne’s influential artist-run space Ocular Lab (2003–10), Damiano Bertoli passed in September. With a career spanning three decades, Bertoli was best known for his multidisciplinary series Continuous Moment (2002–2021), which captured practices ranging from performance to drawing as he propelled a reinvestigation of theory behind modern and contemporary art. Read his obituary.

Nigel Lendon (1944-2021)

Adelaide-born Nigel Lendon passed away in October after a year-long battle with brain cancer. He was celebrated as an art historian and curator, an educator, and an artist in his own right. One of Lendon’s great legacies was the rigour with which he shaped a next generation of creative thinkers, first at Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education, Art Theory Department at Sydney School of Art, and significantly as Deputy Director of the then Canberra School of Art, Australian National University. Read his obituary.

Mervyn Moriarty (1937-2021)

Founder of the Flying Arts Alliance, Mervyn Moriarty passed away only a month after the organisation celebrated its 50th anniversary in November. Moriarty loved poetry, he loved figuration and abstraction, but most of all loved sharing how to paint with others, creating the first flying art school to regional and remote Queensland. Moriarty was 84. Read his obituary.

Robert MacPherson (1937-2021)

Many would argue that Robert MacPherson has been a pivotal figure in Australian art since the 1970s, having influenced a generation of artists with his conceptual paintings and multi-panel installations that pull apart perceptions of what painting is, and can be across his 40-year career. Born in Brisbane, he has passed away in November aged 84, following a brief illness. Read his obituary.

Mrs Fatt (1959-2021)

Over the past 15 years, artist Mrs Fatt was an important member of both Ninuku Arts and Tjungu Palya Art Centres. She was renowned not only for her paintings depicting traditional stories, and was described by Ku Arts Board and Staff as ‘a model of strength and integrity.’ Mrs Fatt was born near Granites in the Northern Territory. She is survived by her partner, Ku Arts’ Chair, Mr David Miller.


Derek Wrigley OAM (1924-201)

Born in Lancashir (UK) Derek Wrigley was formative in the establishment of Craft ACT 50 years ago. He came to Australia in 1947 and was a lecturer of Architecture at Sydney Technical College & University of Technology (now the University of New South Wales), before co-founding the Industrial Design Council of Australia in 1956. He then moved to Canberra as Assistant University Designer at the Australian National University (ANU). ‘Derek believed that design had the power to change the world for the better, and by taking a look at his 70 plus year career in design, it seems he was right,’ writes the Institute of Architects. He died in June in Canberra.

Helge Larsen (1929–2021)

Having worked as a jeweller and silversmith in Denmark and America, Helge Larsen formed a partnership with Darani Lewers in 1961. Together they pioneered modern jewellery in Australia and went on to hold over 70 national and international exhibitions. In addition to his practice, Helge made a major contribution to the development of the contemporary crafts movement, to professional development in arts education as a revered teacher, and to fostering cultural exchange programs.

Carla Zampatti (1942-2021)

Celebrated pioneering fashion designer Carla Zampatti died in April after a fall when attending the gala premiere of La Traviata on Sydney Harbour. She was 78. Zampatti believed that if you felt good in your clothes you could conquer the world. She empowered women through her designs, and was a great patron of the arts and served on the board of the Sydney Dance Company, among others. She was appointed  a Member of the Order of Australia (1987), a Companion of the Order (2009), the Centenary Medal (2001), and was awarded The Australian Fashion Laureate in 2008.

Michael Bryce AM (1938-2021)

Brisbane-born Michael Bryce was an architect, and graphic and industrial designer. He was also the husband of the 25th governor-general of Australia, Dame Quentin Bryce. A multi-awarded designer, in 1977 he was elected inaugural Queensland President of the Design Institute of Australia (DIA) and Federal President in 1979. He was a life fellow of DIA, a life fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

‘Combined with a passion for design and a conviction for the design community, he was one of those rare individuals who comes along once in a generation to elevate the design profession. Not just through their work but also through the responsibilities they take on and the opportunities they create for others,’ writes RAIA. In 2010 Bryce became Patron of the Australian Institute of Architects. He died at home in January.


Mr Orsto (1962-2021)

Senior cultural member, visual artist and musician with the legendary Tiwi Island band B2M (Bathurst To Melville), Mr Orsto passed away this year, aged 59. B2B were an all Indigenous vocal harmony group, creating positive pop/R&B songs with a traditional Tiwi twist, inspiring a generation of Indigenous young people to make better lifestyle choices. The band was formed in 2004 and toured to China, East Timor, Taiwan, Ireland and Indonesia, taking Australian Indigenous culture to the world and creating cross-cultural works with other global Indigenous peoples.

Michael Gudinski (1953-2021)

Michael Gudinski was one of the most significant figures in Australian popular music, as the founder of the Mushroom Group. He died in March aged 68. A larger-than-life figure, Gudinski was widely respected for his unwavering passion for all music – in particular Australian music. He was also a significant supporter of Australian film and television. Read his obituary.

Doug MacLeod (1959-2021)

Television writer, script editor, children’s author and playwright Doug MacLeod died in Melbourne in November after several years of ill-health, including a stroke in 2011 and a diagnosis of the autoimmune disease discoid lupus in 2014. He was 62. Read his obituary.

Annie Greig (1953-2021)

The dance community mourned the death of Tasdance’s longest serving Artistic Director, Annie Greig. Greig passed away in November, a few days shy of her 68th birthday and after battling a long illness. Born and raised in Launceston, Greig became a devotee of contemporary dance following a secondment with Elizabeth Dalman’s Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide in the 1970s. Her impact on the dance sector has been enormous. Read her Obituary.


David Gulpilil Dalaithngu AM (1953-2021)

Updated December 2021: In accordance with the actor’s wishes, the Yolŋu Community now give permission for David Gulpilil’s name to be used.

David Gulpilil Dalaithngu AM was a titan of the Australian screen industry, a traditional man raised on Country whose exquisite dancing, electric performances and remarkable charisma made him an international star. He will be long remembered for his landmark films, such as Walkabout, Storm Boy, Crocodile Dundee, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Tracker, Charlie’s Country, and most recently his final role in documentary, My Name is Gulpilil. In 2019, he was honoured with the NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award. He died of cancer, aged 68. Read his obituary.

Bert Newton (1938-2021)

Bert Newton’s career spanned radio, stage and film but he is best known as the face of Australian TV. He was a Logie Hall of Fame inductee, quadruple Gold Logie award-winning entertainer, personality and compere. He hosted the Logie Awards ceremony on 19 occasions. Newton was known for his collaborations opposite Graham Kennedy and Don Lane on their respective variety shows as well as appearances with his wife, singer Patti Newton. He died in October, aged 83. Read his obituary.

John Cornell (1941-2021)

The screen sector also had great losses with the passing of John Cornell, the Australian TV and film legend behind The Paul Hogan Show, Crocodile Dundee films and a driving force for World Series Cricket. He died in July, aged 80.

Lesley Stern (1950-2021)

‘An incomparable deflator of male egos and fantasies’, Lesley Stern’s vivid intellect made a big mark on the Australian film scene of the 80s and 90s. Stern fought, for over 15 years, with the leukaemia that finally claimed her in January, aged 71. Her friend and film critic Adrian Martin saluted her lifetime achievements.

Ian Richter (1959-2021)

The death of scenic artist Ian Richter at the age of 62 is mourned by the Australian Production Design Guild, which gave him the 2018 Artisan Lifetime Achievement Award for craft, even as scenic artists have been largely replaced by digital post production. Richter was ‘a generous and gentle soul who loved the world and all its riches’, according to Michelle McGahey in her obituary for the Australian Production Design Guild.

David Lightfoot (-2021)

‘The death of David Lightfoot caught industry people by surprise,’ wrote ScreenHub Content Lead for Film David Tiley. ‘He had the ability to create intense connections which are now replaced by bewilderment and grief.’ After entering the industry in the 2980s, Lightfoot  brought his practical and organisational skills to bear as a location manager on films like Golden Fiddles, Dingo, Hammers Over the Anvil, the TV series The New Adventures of Black Beauty, and Babe, where he shared the credit with Peter Lawless. He was in his early sixties when heart related complications took him in June.

Ian Dunlop (1927-2021)

Dunlop was born in the United Kingdom in 1927, and was a post-war migrant to Australia, to Sydney University and the Commonwealth Film Unit in 1956. As one of the key ethnographic filmmakers in Australia, Dunlop filmed cultures which created powerful liminal dramas to take a person beyond life, wrapped in a shroud of culture and memory. Read his obituary.


Chrissy Sharp (1951-2021)

One of Australia’s most respected arts administrators, Chrissy Sharp died late this year, aged 70. Sharp’s stellar career saw her helming some of the most significant arts organisations in Australia and the UK, including as General Manager of Sydney Festival from 2001–2003; General Manager of Sadler’s Wells in London from 2004–2009; Founding Director and CEO of The Wheeler Centre from 2009–2011; and CEO of Sydney Writers’ Festival from 2018–2021, a role she retired from earlier this year due to ill health. Sharp was 70. Read her obituary.

Valerie Parv (1951-2021)

Australian author Valerie Parv published more than 70 novels and sold more than 34 million books translated into 29 languages, making her one of Australia’s most successful and prolific authors. She passed away suddenly in April, a week before her 70th birthday. She began as an advertising copywriter, and her first books, non-fiction home and garden DIY guides, were published in the late 1970s. In the 1980s, she began to publish in the genre she was most well-known for: romance fiction. Read her obituary.


The Hon Henric Nicholas QC (1942-2021)

The Hon Henric Nicholas QC, was a prominent Sydney barrister and Supreme Court judge. Apart from his legal credentials, he was also Chairman of the New South Wales Publications Classifications Board and a Trustee of the Centennial Park Trust, and had an abiding interest in the arts. He was a Director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Chairman of the Eleanor Dark Foundation and of the Varuna Writer’s Centre at Katoomba. He was a Director (and sponsor) of the Blake Society for Religious Art and was Chairman of the Kimberley Foundation of Australia for ten years, promoting research and preservation of Aboriginal rock paintings in the Kimberley. Life was made beautiful – one painting at a time.

Peter John Cochrane (1955-2021)

Former Sydney Morning Herald journalist and arts critic, Peter Cochrane, died in January from an aggressive and extremely rare illness, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Jan Batten, for many years the media manager of the Art Gallery of NSW, said Peter had always persisted to ensure that the arts ‘had a voice in the mainstream dialogue. His integrity always shone through.’ He joined the Herald in 1982, where his interest in the arts grew, later to become arts editor through the 80s.

Peter Althaus (1941-2021)

Winemaker Peter Althaus was a great supporter of the arts. He died in January in his native home Switzerland, aged 79. The co-founders of Domaine A, he sold the vineyard to MONA’s David Walsh three years ago, but the late couple’s commitment to the arts in Tasmania will be long remembered. A former IBM executive in Zurich, Althaus came to Tasmania to turn his wine hobby into a profession, but by the 90s that passion also included staging significant exhibitions of contemporary art, craft and furniture design, as well as touring them to the cities of Zurich and Schaffhausen.

ArtsHub extends an apology should we have missed anyone from this list and salute their achievement.

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