1981 in art
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- Tony Cragg – Britain as Seen from the North
- John Doubleday – Statue of Charlie Chaplin (Leicester Square, London)
- Don Eckland – Emergence (bronze, Eugene, Oregon)
- Bryan Hunt – Arch Falls (bronze, Houston, Texas)
- Nabil Kanso – Dreamvision series of paintings completed
- Ellsworth Kelly – Curve XXIV (sculpture, Seattle)
- Odd Nerdrum – Twilight
- Helmut Newton – Sie kommen! ("They're coming!", photographic diptych; published in French Vogue, November)
- Richard Serra – Tilted Arc, Federal Plaza, New York City (dismantled 1989)
- Andy Warhol – Myths series
- Aubrey Williams – Shostakovich series of paintings completed
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- 15 April – Seth Wulsin, American artist.
- 4 November – Paul Tucker, Canadian visual artist and graphic novel and webcomic illustrator.
- 19 June – Lotte Reiniger, German silhouette animator and film director (b.1899).
- 29 June – Russell Drysdale, Australian artist (b.1912).
- 8 July – Isaac Soyer, Russian-born American painter, (b.1902).
- 7 September – Christy Brown, Irish author, painter and poet (b.1932).
- 12 October – Enzo Plazzotta, Italian-born British sculptor (b.1921).
- 20 October – Annot, German painter (b.1894).
- 22 November – Corrado Parducci, Italian-American architectural sculptor (b.1900).
Full date unknown
- John E. Berninger, American landscape painter (b. 1896)
- Hans Coper, German-born English studio potter (b.1920).
- Hubert Davis, American artist (b.1902).
- Art Frahm, American pin-up and advertising artist (b.1907).
- Pinchus Kremegne, Belarusian sculptor, painter and lithographer (b.1890).
- Nano Reid, Irish painter (b.1905).