Helen Johnson

Painting serves as a critical departure point for Helen Johnson’s practice, as a set of tools that work beyond language to encircle a range of contemporary issues. Her works engage a broad visual vernacular, including spasming stock market graphs, fragments of text from the bygone days of pre-mechanised mining and logging, desert islands and the layout of the Australian Parliament House. Both loaded and contextually specific, the imagery is treated with an insistently aesthetic approach, with an implicit claim for the continuing possibility of critical engagement through reflective aesthetic experience. The building up of layered surfaces is not merely a technically-driven choice, but also serves as a metaphor for some of the complexities and interplay that operate in the ongoing formation of Australian identity—including ‘the persistence of denialist accounts of colonisation, the relationship between personal and official histories, and more fleeting cultural trends that spike the mix, becoming ever present as we lean into the internet’.

Helen Johnson was born in 1979 in Melbourne, Australia. Johnson received her BFA Painting (Hons) from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne and a PHD (Fine Art) from Monash University, Melbourne in 2014. Selected solo exhibitions include: Barron Field, Glasgow International (2016); Cafe Fatigue, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne (2015); The body is through, Laurel Gitlen, New York (2015); Slow Learners, Château Shatto, Los Angeles (2015); Ex-execs, Minerva, Sydney (2014); Time Flies, Sutton Projects, Melbourne (2014); At Once (in collaboration with Adelle Mills), 55 Sydenham Rd, Sydney (2014); Just Paintings (in collaboration with George Egerton Warburton and Hamishi Farah), Westspace, Melbourne (2014); Problem History, MADA Gallery, Monash University, Melbourne (2014); Time enough for love, Chapter House Lane, Melbourne (2013); Meantime, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne (2013); Air to Surface (with Parker Ito), Prism, Los Angeles (Curated by Liv Barrett) (2013).Dead Metaphor, ACME Project Space, London (2012); Universal Remote, Y3K Gallery, Melbourne (2011); and System Preferences, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne (2011).

Selected group exhibitions include: Painting. More Painting, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2016); TarraWarra Biennial: Endless Circulation, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria (2016); I wish I never kissed that frog, Jeanine Hofland, Amsterdam (2015); Relational Changes, Christine König Galerie, Vienna (2015); In my absence, Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris (2015); June: A Painting Show, Sadie Coles, London (2015); Care, Interstate, New York (2015); Nine paintings presentation, The Alderman, Melbourne (2014); Faux Museum, C3 Contemporary Art Space, Melbourne (2014); Re-raising Consciousness, TCB, Melbourne (2014); Air to Surface: Parker Ito and Helen Johnson, Prism, Los Angeles (2013); Collage: The Heide Collection, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2013); Negotiating This World: Contemporary Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2012); Chinatown: the sequel, ltd Los Angeles (2012); Art & Australia Collection 2003 – 2013, Newcastle Art Gallery, New South Wales (2012); Stick It! Collage in Australia Art, The Ian Potter Center: National Gallery of Victoria (2010); The Independence Project, Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur (2007); Present Future, Artissima, Turin (2007); Octopus 6, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne (2006); and New06, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2006).

Johnson has undertaken international studio residencies in London, Norway and Germany. She was also a studio artist at Gertrude Contemporary between 2003 and 2005, and Artspace, Sydney, in 2012.

Helen Johnson lives and works in Melbourne

Born 1979 in Melbourne, Australia
Lives and works in Melbourne


Warm Ties, Artspace, Sydney — AU

Ends, New Museum, New York – US
Warm Ties, Chapter, Cardiff – UK
Warm Ties, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London – UK

Keep your voice low and you can win any point, Art Basel Statements, Basel – CH
Barron Field, Glasgow International, Director’s Programme, curated by Sarah McCrory, Glasgow – UK

Cafe Fatigue, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne – AU
The body is through, Laurel Gitlen, New York – US
Slow Learners, Château Shatto, Los Angeles – US

Ex-execs, Minerva, Sydney – AU
Time Flies, Sutton Projects, Melbourne – AU
At Once (in collaboration with Adelle Mills), 55 Sydenham Rd, Sydney – AU
Just Paintings (in collaboration with George Egerton Warburton and Hamishi Farah), Westspace, Melbourne – AU
Problem History, MADA Gallery, Monash University, Melbourne – AU
I can spare what you asked for, flag for the Westgate Bridge, in association with Melbourne Now at the NGV (in collaboration with Brook Andrew, Jon Campbell and Kate Daw) – AU

Time enough for love, Chapter House Lane, Melbourne – AU
Sutton Gallery, Melbourne – AU
Air to Surface (with Parker Ito), Prism, curated by Liv Barrett, Los Angeles – US

Dead Metaphor, ACME Project Space, London – UK

System Preferences, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne – AU
Universal Remote,
Y3K Gallery, Melbourne – AU

An Effort of Memory, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne – AU

On the Make, Utopian Slumps, Melbourne – AU
Love over Gold, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne – AU

Do not go gentle into that goodnight, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne – AU
Some thoughts on interiority, Summer residency presentation, Künstlerhaus Dortmund, Germany – DE
Australia in the the Seventies, Joint Hassles, Melbourne – AU

Customs and Mods, Galleri Schnauzer, Oslo – NO
Not to be confused with the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (in collaboration with Kylie Forbes), ClubsProject Inc., Melbourne – AU
The time has come to unlearn almost everything you know, Little Salon, Melbourne – AU

Like theatre, like perfume they are dreaming of themselves, Studio 12, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne – AU
You must have been in strange places, Westspace, Melbourne Live at the Obelisk, Bus Gallery, Melbourne – AU
Live at the Obelisk, Bus Gallery, Melbourne – AU


The National 2017, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney — AU 

Painting. More Painting, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, curated by Annika Kristensen, Hannah Mathews and Max Delany, Melbourne – AU
TarraWarra Biennial: Endless Circulation, TarraWarra Museum of Art, curated by Helen Hughes/Discipline magazine and Victoria Lynn, Tarrawarra, Victoria – AU

I wish I never kissed that frog, Jeanine Hofland, curated by Sjoerd Kloosterhuis, Amsterdam – NL
Of deceit, Greenwood Street Project, organised by Tomislav Nickolic, Melbourne – AU
Pleasure and Reality, National Gallery of Victoria, curated by Jane Devery and Serena Bently, Melbourne – AU
Relational Changes, Christine König Galerie, curated by Valentin Ruhry and Andy Boot, Vienna – AT
In my absence, Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, curated by Dorothea Jendricke, Paris – FR
June: A Painting Show, Sadie Coles HQ, London – UK
The Material Turn, Margaret Lawrence Gallery, curated by Rebecca Coates, Melbourne – AU
Care, Interstate, curated by Dana Kopel and Marian Tubbs, New York – US
I refuse to participate in failure, SPREEZ, curated by Philipp Reitsam, Munich – DE

Nine paintings presentation, The Alderman, curated by Renee Cosgrave and Merryn Lloyd, Melbourne – AU
Fin, Utopian Slumps, Melbourne – AU
Re-raising Consciousness,TCB, curated by Fayen Devie, Katherine Hattam and Harriet Morgan, Melbourne – AU
Sunny and Hilly, Minerva, Sydney – AU
Sublet, 50 Napier Street, curated by Matthew Linde and Brennan Olver, Fitzroy – AU

Method and Gesture, Utopian Slumps, Melbourne – AU
Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne – AU
Monochrome Exhibition, Sutton Projects, curated by David Homewood, Melbourne – AU
Mural Problem, Otras Obras, curated by Fiona Connor, Tijuana – AU
Decline, Top Shelf, curated by Harriet Kate Morgan, Melbourne – AU
Third/Fourth, Margaret Lawrence Gallery, curated by Christopher L G Hill, Melbourne – AU
Wavy Banners Project, ET4U, curated by Karen Havskov Jensen and Klavs Weiss, Vemb – DK
Collage: The Heide Collection, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne – AU

Negotiating this world, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne – AU
Art & Australia Collection 2003-2013, Regional touring exhibition, various venues, New South Wales – AU
Ode to Form, Westspace, curated by Kelly Fliedner, Melbourne – AU
Chinatown: the sequel, LTD, curated by Liv Barrett, Los Angeles– US
Temperament Spectrum, Sutton Gallery, curated by Liza Statton, Melbourne– AU
Of Virgins, Greenwood Street Projects, Melbourne – AU

Art2: Horsham, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, curated by Hannah Mathews, Melbourne – AU
Subtext, UnProjects at Westspace, Melbourne – AU
You’re Welcome, Fundraiser for the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, Mars Gallery, Melbourne – AU

Stick It! Collage in Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria, curated by Alisa Bunbury, Melbourne – AU
Addition/Erasure, VCA Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne – AU

Octopus 9: I forget to forget, curated by Stephen Gilchrist, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne; Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Canberra – AU
Cross Colouring, curated by Harriet Morgan & Sean Bailey, Hell Gallery, Melbourne – AU;  Gambia Castle, Auckland – NZ
Order/Disorder, C3 Contemporary Art Space, Melbourne – AU

Y2K Artist Run Artist Funded Melbourne Biennale, curated by Christopher L G Hill, TCB, Melbourne – AU
Robert and Bobby Creely perform ‘Listen’ (1972 Radio Play), curated by Harriet Morgan, Joint Hassles, Melbourne – AU
The Library Project, coordinated by Pat Foster and Jen Berean for Frankston City Library, Melbourne – AU
The Nightclub Project: Everybody’s Free, Billboard for Next Wave Festival, Melbourne – AU
Skin and Bones, curated by Patrick O’Brien, Bus Gallery, Melbourne – AU
The Monobrow Show, Hell Gallery, Melbourne – AU

The Independence Project, curated by Alexie Glass, Galerie Petronas, Kuala Lumpur – MY
A Bridge too Far, curated by Jacqui Doughty, Alliance Francaise, Melbourne – AU
eg., curated by Bryony Nainby, Plimsoll Gallery, Hobart – AU

Octopus 6: We know who we are, curated by Zara Stanhope, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne; Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale – AU
New06, curated by Juliana Engberg, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne – AU
Escape Artist-Run Artist Party, curated by Christopher Hill, High Street Project, Christchurch – NZ Great Dividing Range, curated by Lisa Byrne, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Canberra – AU
Group Show, curated by Sean Bailey and Harriet Morgan, Joint Hassles, Melbourne – AU


Language Face, Minerva, offsite, Melbourne – AU

WORK, Slopes, Melbourne – AU

Love in the Mourning, Death be Kind, Melbourne – AU

New World Records, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

Ugly Heritage, Joint Hassles, Melbourne ­– AU
Informal Rituals, TBC, Melbourne (with Alex Vivian) – AU

Slide exhibition program 2005, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourn – AU


PHD (Fine Art), Monash University, Melbourne

BFA Painting (Hons), Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne



Creative Victoria VicArts Grant

Mollie Holman Award for Doctoral Thesis Excellence, Monash University, Melbourne

Artist in Residence, Princes Hill Primary School, Melbourne
Australian War Memorial ANZAC Centenary Print Portfolio Commission
New Work Grant, Australia Council for the Arts
Australian Artists’ Grant, National Association for the Visual Arts (with Adelle Mills)

New Work Grant, Australia Council for the Arts
London Studio Residency, Australia Council for the Arts

Artspace residency, Sydney

New Work Grant, Australia Council for the Arts

Australian Postgraduate Award

Residency, Lademoen Kunstnerverksteder, Trondheim, Norway
Summer Residency, Künstlerhaus Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany
New Work Grant, Australia Council for the Arts
Arts Development (Creation) Grant, Arts Victoria
Ripe Award for Emerging Artists, Art and Australia/NAVA

Arts Development (Presentation) Grant, Arts Victoria

Residency, Nordisk Kunstnarsenter Dalsåsen, Dale, Norway
Travel Grant, Ian Potter Cultural Trust

Studio residency, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne


Contribution to Artists Writing, 2000–2015, Jennifer Liese (ed.), New York: Paper Monument (forthcoming)
Critical Ambiguity: A Kantian Reading of Recent Work by Juan Davila,’ Discipline, Issue #4, March
‘Portfolio: Helen Johnson,’ Frieze Online, August 2016 https://frieze.com/article/portfolio-helen-johnson

‘Helen Grace’ – contribution to Frieze Masters: Artists’ Artists, Jennifer Higgie (ed.)
Painting is a critical form (book), published by 3Ply, Melbourne
I paint the ground that is beneath my feet – catalogue essay for Ann Debono at Caves, Melbourne
Porosity, machine, subtraction, substitution: on the formal address to politics in works by Brighid Fitzgerald, Rosie Isaac, Nicholas Mangan and Tom Nicholson – with Justin Clemens, Un Magazine, Pip Wallis (ed.), Autumn
Introductory essay for NEW15 catalogue (curated by Matt Hinkley), ACCA, Melbourne
Cover image for Little Star weekly, January 23

Kippenberger aus Australien – Catalogue text for Martin Kippenberger (curated by Geoff Newton), Neon Parc, Melbourne
Contribution to ‘8 Painters on Painting’ (Jennifer Higgie), Frieze Issue #160, January, February
The Now is Not Present, Catalogue essay for Damiano Bertoli, Continuous Moment: Sordid’s Hotel at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Memory is not a recording device: On Eliza Hutchison’s ‘Hair in the Gate, a biograph’, Un Magazine, Jarrod Rawlins (ed.), Spring
Is the research your practice, or is the practice your research?, Un Magazine, Jarrod Rawlins (ed.), Autumn
‘Exinterior: On Stanislaw Lem’, Science Fiction/World Making, Amelia Barikin and Helen Hughes (eds.), Surpllus, Melbourne
‘Lend me your ear: On Hany Armanious’s “Fountain”’, Discipline, issue 3
Fiona Connor: Bare Use, catalogue contribution for Fiona Connor at Hopkinson Cundy, Frieze Art Fair, New York

‘It seems like everybody knows everybody already so let’s get to work’, Un Magazine, Summer
‘On contemporary art and criticality’, paper presented at the Australasian Society of Continental Philosophy Annual Conference, Auckland, New Zealand
‘Scott Mitchell: A silent modification of the specific present’, Un Magazine, Autumn
‘Mira Gojak: A moment an immeasurable whole’, Discipline, issue 2, Autumn

‘Review: Christoph Menke, Daniel Loick, Isabelle Graw, ‘“The Power of Judgment: A Debate on Aesthetic Critique”’, Discipline, issue 1, Winter
Artist’s pages, Discipline, issue 1, Winter
‘Groundwork’, Subtext: Artists and Writing, UnProjects for Westspace, Melbourne
‘Treason and Crime’, Reason and Rhyme, catalogue essay, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, and St Paul St, Auckland
Act Natural, catalogue essay for Annika Koops’s exhibition of the same name, Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne
The Gift and the Curse, catalogue essay for Drew Pettifer’s exhibition of the same name, various venues, Melbourne

New World Records, catalogue essay, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne
Nathan, catalogue contribution for Attack Decay Sustain Release by Nathan Gray, Craft Victoria, Melbourne

Gone Bush, catalogue contribution for A Time Like This, Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne
Kate Smith, artist page for Un Magazine, Issue 2.2
The Superpit, catalogue essay for Brodie Ellis’ exhibition of the same name, Conical, Melbourne
Happy Days, review, Jason Heller and Lucreccia Quintanilla for The South Project
Strange 4 (cover image), postgraduate journal of creative writing, The University of Melbourne

‘Seeing things in black and white: Deutsher and Hill’, Whitehot Contemporary Art Magazine, issue 7, October
‘Door Slamming Festival at Mehringdamm 72’, Whitehot Contemporary Art Magazine, issue 4, May
Black River (illustrations), published by Re:Press, Melbourne
Omnipraxis, catalogue essay for Omnipresents by Christopher L G Hill, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne


Akkermans, Ari – Barron Field (cat.), Glasgow International, April
Cashdan, Marina and Gottschalk, Molly – ‘The 20 Best Booths at Art Basel,’ Artsy, June 15 (https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-the-20-best-booths-at-art-basel)
Judah, Hettie – ‘Female Artists Take Centre Stage at Glasgow International 2016,’ Artnet News, April 8 (https://news.artnet.com/art-world/female-artists-shine-glasgow-international-469415)
Knezic, Sophie – ‘5th Tarra Warra Biennial,’ Frieze Issue #182, October
Milne, Pippa – ‘Helen Johnson,’ Vault, Issue 13, February
Thorne, Harry – ‘Critic’s Guide: Glasgow,’ Frieze online, 13 April (https://www.frieze.com/article/critics-guide-glasgow )
Vitamin P3: New Perspectives in Painting, London: Phaidon

Berardini, Andrew – ‘Critics’ Picks: Helen Johnson, Château Shatto,’ Artforum online, January 2015 (http://artforum.com/picks/id=49943)
Hessami, Aryana – ‘Helen Johnson,’ Foundations, Issue #3
Knezic, Sophie – ‘Helen Johnson’ (review: Cafe Fatigue) – Frieze Issue #175, November – December
Matorin, David – Reviews in Brief: Helen Johnson, Château Shatto, Modern Painters Vol. 27, Issue 5, May
Rainforth, Dylan – ‘Review: Helen Johnson,’ Artguide, November 2015 (http://artguide.com.au/articles-page/show/helen-johnson-2/)
Smith, Roberta – ‘Review: Kate Newby and Helen Johnson at Laurel Gitlen,’ The New York Times, July 16
Wullschlager, Jackie – ‘Critics’ Choice, June: A Painting Show’, FT Weekend, 06– 07 June, p. 17

Butler, Rex – ‘Modernism: More Popular Than Populism,’ Broadsheet 43.4, Spring
Loughnan, Melissa – ‘Paintings about Painting’ (interview), The Blackmail, offline issue #3, Spring
Mills, Adelle – Foggy shields are breathing poem to accompany Ex-execs at Minerva, May
Rule, Dan – Review: Just Paintings, The Age, ‘Your weekend: In the galleries,’ May 3

Edgar, Ray, Unfurling Flags, The Age, November 29
Frost, Andrew, What can nostalgia bring to contemporary art? The Guardian online, July 31 (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/australia-culture- blog/2013/jul/31/nostalgia-contemporary- art-culture)
Martin, Adrian – Volumetric: Helen Johnson (cat. entry for Ode to Form), Westspace
Radford, Lisa, ‘de for,’ review: Decline at Top Shelf Gallery, Stamm http://www.stamm.com.au/de-for/ September/October issue
Rainforth, Dylan, Let Love Emerge, The Age, ‘Space: Around the Galleries’ November 6
Rule, Dan, Helen Johnson: Time Enough For Love, The Age, ‘In the Galleries’ November 23
Rule, Dan, Monochrome Exhibition, The Age, ‘In the Galleries’ September 7
Rule, Dan, REVIEW: Helen Johnson – Meantime, Raven, July 18 (https://www.ravencontemporary.com.au/helen-johnson-meantime/)
Rule, Dan, Helen Johnson: Meantime, The Age, ‘In the Galleries’ July 6
Nelson, Roger (interview) – Hovering uneasily close to sea level, Das Superpaper #27, pp. 66-69, June
Waite, Julia, Meantime (cat.), June
Wise, Kit, Review: Helen Johnson, Frieze Issue #159, November – December

Gellatly, Kelly (ed.), 101 Contemporary Australian Artists, National Gallery of Victoria
McSpedden, Shelley, Game Changer: Helen Johnson – New Painterly Strategies, Eyeline, pp. 48-41, Issue #76
Razer, Helen, Deflowering the authorised history of the Virgin, The Age, June 13 (http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/deflowering-the- authorised-history-of-the-virgin-20120612-207y5.html)
Sutton, Irene et al., Sutton Gallery: The first twenty-one years 1992-2012, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne
Time and Vision: Australia Council for the Arts London Residencies 1992-2002, Acme Studios, London
Triguboff, Eleonora (ed.) – Art & Australia Collection/Awards/Projects, Art & Australia

Rule, Dan, Helen Johnson: System Preferences, The Age, June 25, ‘Life & Style’ p. 5

Clemens, Justin, Love over Gold (cat.), Sutton Gallery, June
Gardner, Anthony, About Between Towards Despite Because: On Helen Johnson’s Makings (cat.), Utopian Slumps, November
Gilchrist, Stephen, I Forget to Forget (cat.), Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces
Goh, Leon interviewing Glichrist, Stephen, Forgetting is not an option, Runway, Issue 15, Summer
Nelson, Robert, Moulding with the Imagination, The Age, p. 19, August 19
Rainforth, Dylan, Visual Art (What’s on), The Age, p. 19, June 10

Gibson, Prue, Five female artists to watch in 2008, Vogue Australia, January

Alemani, Cecilia, Present/Future (cat.), Artissima 07, Turin, Italy, November
Backhouse, Meaghan, In galleries, it’s show time, The Age A2, January 20
Clemens, Justin, A Law That Cannot Be Enforced, The Monthly, March
Clemens, Justin & Delaney, Max, Of tents and tenets: some relations between art and politics, Art & Australia, Autumn
Das Individuum und die kapitalistische Gesellschaft (The individual and the capitalist society), Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, West Germany, 27 July
Day, Charlotte, A Plan for Living (cat.), for Artissima 07, November
Fitzgerald, Michael, Helen Johnson, Art & Australia, Summer
Heron, Nicholas, Do not go gentle into that goodnight (cat.), Sutton Gallery
Palmer, Daniel, Emerging Artists, Frieze, p. 137, Issue 104 January – February
Zwischen Träumen und subtiler Kritik (Between dreams and subtle critique), Ruhr Nachrichten, West Germany, 27 July

Backhouse, Meaghan, Windows into Johnson’s world, The Age, March 21
Benedictus, Luke, A Shot of the New, Preview (The Sunday Age), March 26
Engberg, Juliana, New06 (cat.), The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, March
Green, Charles, Critics’ Picks: Melbourne: New06, Art Forum Online, March
Macdonald, Anna, Everyday Translations (cat.), New06, The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, March



Ends New Museum, New York 13 September 2017 – 14 January 2018 Helen Johnson’s densely layered canvases incorporate historical imagery ranging from political cartoons, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century painting, architectural diagrams and maps, fragments of bodies, and handwritten text rendered with … More

Kit Wise, Helen Johnson, Frieze, November 2013 (Download PDF)

Shelley McSpedden, Game Changer, eyelineshelley, 2011 (Download PDF)



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