Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson grew up surrounded by art; both his parents were painters and there were framed prints of Vermeer and Albert Pinkham Ryder hanging on the walls of his childhood home in Mosman. Leaving school at fourteen he worked at the Lintas agency, rambled around rural NSW on painting trips with close friend Brett Whiteley and studied at the Julian Ashton ArtSchool and the National Art School in Sydney. In 1960, he decided to travel and departed by ship passing through Egypt, Greece and Italy on route to London. Hemet Whiteley in Florence and together they decided to travel to Bologna to visit the studio the Italian still life painter Giorgio Morandi. When he eventually arrived in London he spent the next seven years painting full time while also working as a studio assistant to the British sculptors Brian Walland Anthony Caro. While living in London he immersed himself in the art world and was introduced to Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Oskar Kokoschka. Unlike other Australian artists who found international success through figurative and semi abstracted landscape (notably Sidney Nolan and John Olsen) Johnson’sEuropean experience distilled his love of colour, space and form into highly distilled abstract works. His return to Sydney in 1967 contributed to a generational shift towards minimal geometric abstraction that was reflected in his first solo show at Gallery A and the ground breaking exhibition ‘The Field’ in 1968.

Mixing his own pigments and stretching his own frames to generate unique shaped canvases, these minimal works were characterized by large areas of flat, solid colour creating unbroken surfaces with no emphasis on gesture or brushstroke. His purpose was to eliminate recognizable imagery in favour of abstraction and to build a unique fusion between architectonics, sculpture and painting. Inspired by the work of Quattrocento Italian painters, the organic forms of Constantin Brancusi, the frontal drama of Albert Albers and the colour and scale of Henri Matisse, his work in the late 60s was a uniquely Australian interpretation of a major global shift away from representation. Moving to New York in 1970, the work of the next decade gradually came to embrace more surface texture and a palette that became more and more identifiable with a ‘bush spectrum’. By the time he reached NorthQueensland in 1979 he became interested in the diversity and ecology of the environment, looking at the intense and complex relationships within nature. Many things triggered his inspiration: his appreciation of form, the colours on bird feathers, and the reflecting metallic hot-rod colours on beetle wing covers.The symmetrical patterns on butterfly wings, leaves, mammals, reptiles, fishbones and birds eggs, everything was absorbed, remembered and used in his art.Colour and light have remained a lifelong preoccupation and Johnson links every major shift and phase of his work to natural influences: fallen branches on a bush floor, floating leaves on a moving river, and how light from the sun reflected on different water surfaces, especially in the ocean. Many ofJohnson’s large nocturnal and oceanic blue works evoke a personal memory of staring through the sea water on a dark night and marvelling at the phosphorescence and the bioluminescence of the organisms swimming in the sea:

‘Probably the strongest influence that brought about the metaphor of water, darkness and skies was the mystery of fishing at LobsterBeach at Broken Bay’

Other shapes created by nature continue to interest him, like the empty seashells washed up by the tide and scattered on the beach, the natural debris deposited along strand lines by the waves and the tide as the water recedes back into the ocean. As his paintings became more painterly he also began to analyze the environment identifying the elements that contribute significantly to each other.

The style which he has become most recognized for is distinguished by ultra-thick impasto multi layered paintwork and rich complex use of colour. These textural paintings full of controlled energy are constructed with heavily imposed layers of colours that he describes as ‘zones’.

The horizontal zones of colour which divide his paintings evoke the layers of recycled life, cycles of light throughout the passage of a single day and contrasting elements such as fire and water, earth and air. The impulses come from landscape but they are not landscapes in the literal sense.As he has said, ‘these are paintings are not to be viewed and considered in the interpretative way, they must be explored as a visual experience’

When interviewed after winning the prestigious 2014 Wynne Prize for his painting Oceania high low he said ‘the work pays homage to the origin myths of Oceania, particularly the Maori legend of the sky and earth being separated to admit the light of day. Landscape is so often signalled by the division of sea and sky but this work deals with convex space rather than a conventional horizontal perspective. With a wider scale and a paler palette, I explore the inverted geology under the sea or the unmapped strata of clouds’.

Oceania high low was an epic mural scaled painting that signalled yet another shift in Johnson’s work away from gestural paintwork and towards a flatter surface and brighter key or palette. Over the span of fifty years of painting, some might observe that his work has come full circle and is now currently exploring the sculptural properties of colour and the symbolic power of forms. Linking every phase and making sense of the contrasts, is a deep ongoing conversation with colour. Michael Johnson is a colourist who never tires of the “energy and crackle” of the spectrum. Whether working on a small rice paper drawing, slicing into a collage of calligraphy, sketching in pastel or drawing up a vast mural with faint charcoal lines on raw canvas, every work has a definite underpinning based on his own highly evolved ideas about geometry. The spontaneity of every line pivots on a structure. And while many look to Johnson to find a link to the landscape he stresses that his work is primarily abstract: ‘The experience of the painting’ he argues, is the painting. I want the impact to engage the senses, play with time and spacial awareness. My painting is not an object capturing scenery; it is a sensory experience in its own terms’.

Biography

Biography and Education


1938
Born Sydney, Australia, currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia.


1953-59


Studied at Julian Art School, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Diploma of Art, National Art School Sydney, NSW, Australia


1960-67
Lived in London, UK


1962-63
Brian Wall (Steel Sculpture, Studio Assistant)


1963-64
Michael Kidner (built and constructed three-dimensional painting) Studio Assistant
1964-65


Anthony Coro (rebuilt and painted ‘Madam Pompodour’ aluminum), worked with RonRobertson Swann and repainted all steel works ofCoro. (1960-65) StudioAssistant

1969-75
Lived and Worked in the United States


1963-85
Lecturer: St Martins School of Art, London; Croyden School of Art, London;Birmingham School of Art, United Kingdon; East Sydney Technical College,Sydney, Alexander Mackie College, Sydney; Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney’James Cook University, Townsville; Newcastle College of Advanced Education,NSW; Goulburn College of advanced Education, NSW; Brisbane Arts Council, QLD;University of New South Wales, Sydney; City Art institute, Sydney; Crown LaneSchool of Art, Sydney; Silpokon University Malchon, Thailand


1980-81
Collaborated with Robert Klippel (convexed/concaved colour on constructiviststeel-type sculpture spray painted).

Selected Solo Exhibition


2015
Metro Gallery, VIC, Australia
Charles Nodrum Gallery, VIC, Australia
Annette Larkin Fine Art, NSW, Australia


2014
Metro Gallery, VIC, Australia
Annette Larkin Fine Art, NSW, Australia


2013
Tim Olsen Gallery, NSW, Australia


2011
Tim Olsen Gallery, NSW, Australia


2010
Metro Gallery, VIC, Australia
Charles Nodrum Gallery, VIC, Australia


2009
Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney, Australia
Hong Kong international Art Fair, Stand Ko4, Hong Kong


2007
Sherman Galleries, NSW, Australia


2003
Shermon Galleries, NSW, Australia
Philip Bacon Galleries, QLD, Australia


2002
Christine Abrahams Gallery, VIC, Australia


2001
Sherman Galleries Goodhope, NSW, Australia


1999
Sherman Galleries Goodhope, NSW, Australia


1998
Christine Abrahams Gallery, VIC, Australia


1997
Sherman Galleries Goodhope, NSW, Australia


1996
Christine Abrahams Gallery, VIC, Australia


1995
Sherman Galleries Goodhope, NSW, Australia


1994
Christine Abrahams Gallery, VIC, Australia


1993
Sherman Galleries Goodhope, NSW, Australia


1992
Studio Exhibition, Jorocin Ave, NSW, Australia


1991
Christine Abrahams Gallery, VIC, Australia


1990
Macquarie Galleries, NSW, Australia


1989
Michael Johnson, Survey 1968-1988, Art Gallery of New SouthWales, NSW,Australia
Forum, Invitational Art Fair, Hamburg, West Germany


1988
Macquarie Galleries, NSW, Australia
Christine Abrahams Gallery, VIC, Australia


1986
Macquarie Galleries, NSW, Australia
University Gallery, University of Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Christine Abrahams Gallery, VIC, Australia


1985
Studio Exhibition, Haymarket, NSW, Australia
Gallery 52, WA, Australia


1983-84
Studio Exhibition, Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia


1982
Studio Exhibition, Greene St, New York, USA
237 Lafayette, New York, USA
Pinocotheca Gallery, VIC, Australia


1981
Gallery A, NSW, Australia


1980
Gallery A, NSW, Australia


1979
Gallery A, NSW, Australia


1977
Gallery A, NSW, Australia
Max Hutchinson Gallery, New York, USA


1976
Gallery A, NSW, Australia
Institute of Modern Art, QLD, Australia


1975
Studio Exhibition, James Cooke University, QLD, Australia


1974
Gallery A, NSW, Australia
Studio Exhibition, Bowery, New York, USA


1973
Max Hutchinson Gallery, New York, USA


1972
Gallery A, NSW, Australia


1970
Max Hutchinson Gallery, New York, USA

Awards and Recognition


1989
Sydney Conference Centre, NSW, Australia


1986
Visual Arts Board (Artist-in-residence,) The University of Melbourne, VIC,Australia


1984
Mural, State Bank of New South Wales, NSW, Australia


1983
Tapestry, Waverly Council Centre, VIC, Australia


1981
Visual Arts Board (New York Studio), New York, USA


1980
Camden Art Society (Works on Paper), NSW, Australia


1976
Gold Coast Art Prize (Painting), QLD, Australia


1975
Visual Arts Board (Artist-in-residence grant), NSW,Australia
James Cook University, QLD, Australia


1974
Visual Arts Board (Grant), NSW, Australia


1967
R. H Taft’s Prize, Contemporary Art Society Annual Exhibition, NSW, Australia

Collections


National Gallery of Australia, ACT, Australia
Art Gallery of New South Wale, NSW, Australia
Art Gallery of Western Australia, WA, Australia
National Gallery of Victoria, VIC, Australia
Queensland Art Gallery, QLD, Australia
Parliament House, ACT, Australia
Ballarat Art Gallery, VIC, Australia
Burnie Art Gallery, TAS, Australia
Gold Coast City Art Gallery Collection, QLD, Australia
Newcastle Region Art Gallery, NSW, Australia
New England Regional Art Museum, NSW, Australia
Wollongong Art Gallery, NSW, Australia
Australian National University, ACT, Australia
James Cook University, QLD, Australia
Monash University, VIC, Australia
The University of Melbourne Art Collection, VIC, Australia
State Library of Western Australia, WA, Australia
Camde3n Council Art Collection, NSW, Australia
Townsville Council Art Collection, QLD, Australia
Waverly Council Art Collection, VIC, Australia
Artbank, Joye Foundation, NSW, Australia
Commonwealth Bank of Australia, NSW, Australia
Commercial Union Insurance, VIC, Australia
Daryl Jackson, VIC, Australia
Holmes a Court Collection, WA, Australia
Hyatt Adelaide, SA, Australia
Hyatt on Collins, VIC, Australia
Medibank, NSW, Australia
National Bank of Australasia, VIC, Australia
Park Grand Hotel, NSW, Australia
Philip Cox and Partners, NSW, Australia
Sly and Weigall, NSW, Australia
State Bank of Australia, NSW, Australia
Telstra Sydney, NSW, Australia
Westfield NSW, Australia
Westpac, NSW, Australia
Westpac Collections, NSW, Australia
Yulara Tourist Resort, NT, Australia
Chortwell Collections, Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton, NZ
Chase Manhattan, New York, USA
Croydon Education Committee, London, UK

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West
Michael Johnson
A$ 16,500.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, West, 2013, pastel on paper, 101 x 80 cm (image); 105 x 84 cm (framed)
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South
Michael Johnson
A$ 16,500.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, South, 2013, Pastel on paper, 101 x 80 cm (image); 105 x 84 cm (frame)
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Tiger Terrian
Michael Johnson
A$ 1,200.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, Tiger Terrian, Limited edition archival pigment print, 60 x 45 cm (image size), 70 x 50 cm (sheet size), Edition 8 of 300
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Tiger Tiger in the Day
Michael Johnson
A$ 1,200.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, Tiger Tiger in the Day, Limited edition archival pigment print, 60 x 46 cm (image size), 70 x 50 cm (sheet size), Edition 2 of 300
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Oud Back Track
Michael Johnson
A$ 1,200.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, Oud Back Track, Limited edition archival pigment print, 60 x 50 cm (Image size), 70 x 55 cm (Sheet size), Edition 5 of 100
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Manover
Michael Johnson
A$ 950.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, Manover, Limited edition archival pigment print, 60.5 x 50 cm (Image size), 70 x 55 cm (Sheet size), Edition 4 of 100
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High Low Oud
Michael Johnson
A$ 1,200.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, High Low Oud, Limited edition archival pigment print, 60 x 52 cm (Image size), 70 x 58cm (Paper size), Edition 6 of 100
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Random Aurora
Michael Johnson
A$ 1,200.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, Random Aurora, Limited edition archival pigment print, 60.5 x 48.5 cm (Image size), 70 x 54 cm (sheet size), Edition 3 of 100
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Aurora Australis
Michael Johnson
A$ 1,200.00 AUD
Michael Johnson, Aurora Australis, Limited edition archival pigment print, 60 x 52 cm (image size), 70 x 58cm (sheet size), Edition of 100
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Exhibitions
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