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Tim Johnson
Green Tara

Tim Johnson is a fascinating Sydney painter who is making a significant contribution to Australian art.

Since the late 1970s spiritual beings have cohabited with living people in his painterly universe – Buddhas, bodhisattvas, Aboriginal artists, indigenous Americans, Tibetan monks, Vietnamese farmers, extra-terrestrials and Christian figures emerge from fields of dots or float across shimmering colour.

A major retrospective of his work, Tim Johnson: Painting Ideas, is to open at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and will feature 55 of his key works from 1970 to the present. It focuses on the humanist project underlying Johnson’s engagement with Aboriginal culture, belief in collaboration and his search for spiritual meaning.

Johnson began as a painter in the 1960s but soon turned to experimentation with sculpture, light, performances and other media. Johnson’s interest in both boundary crossing and sexuality as a shared public experience extended to the controversial performances he undertook in 1972 at Sydney and Queensland Universities, amongst other venues. The Queensland performances lead to questions in the Queensland parliament and an enquiry which saw some of the University staff involved sacked.

By the mid-1970s Johnson developed a form of conceptual painting, looking beyond European and American art and influenced by travels through India, Nepal and South East Asia. Back in Australia, an interest in music and involvement in the Punk scene further fuelled Johnson’s cultural eclecticism.

In 1980 Johnson visited Central Australian Aboriginal artists at Papunya, a highly influential experience which resulted in his paintings of Aboriginal artists and collaborative works made with Papunya painters such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. He was given permission to use some non-sacred motifs and dotting which, at times controversially, has been a feature of many of his subsequent paintings.

Johnson’s interests spread wider than Australia, to Buddhism and Asian art. He saw similarities between these cultural forms and Aboriginal art, which led to magnificent multi-panelled and layered canvases, such as Lotus born 2006 (Art Gallery of New South Wales) where a plethora of events, moments and places occur simultaneously. In these works it seems as if he is visualising the harmony and beauty of the Pure Lands of some Buddhist traditions in our contemporary world.

Tim Johnson: Painting Ideas, curated by Wayne Tunnicliffe, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Julie Ewington, Queensland Art Gallery, will be accompanied by a substantial catalogue.

The exhibition will tour to the Queensland Art Gallery (20 June – 11 October 2009) and The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne (11 November 2009 – 14 February 2010).

Organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Queensland Art Gallery  

 Aust GovtThis exhibition is supported by the Contemporary Touring initiative through Visions of Australia, an Australian Government program, and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative to the Australian Government and state and territory governments.


On view:13 March - 17 May 2009
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney
Telephone:(02) 9225 1744
(02) 9225 7400 Recorded information
1800 679 278 National toll-free
Hours:10am to 5pm, 7 days a week
Art After Hours Wednesday nights until 9pm
Media Information and Interviews:Susanne Briggs
(02) 9225 1791 or 0412 268 320

IMAGE CREDIT: Tim Johnson with Karma Phuntsok and My Le Thi Green Tara 2005, acrylic on canvas, Harry & Susan Curtis collection.