Born 1979 in Melbourne, Australia. Lives and works in Melbourne.
As a painter, Helen Johnson has worked for many years at a large scale depicting life-sized figures, often on unstretched canvas. Working life-sized produces what she thinks of as a social relation between the viewer and the represented figure, beyond a strictly aesthetic experience. Johnson's work draws upon both personal, immediate experience and broader observations, socio-cultural and historical. An ongoing interest is the construction of national identity in Australia and the ways in which contemporary Australian society relates to the legacies and continuities of colonisation
The surfaces of her paintings are developed by masking and layering content in such a way that images existing on different registers cut through and interweave with one another. This produces a visual experience wherein information emerges from the painted surface in a slow and entangled manner. This can serve as an allusion to the complexity of how meaning and history are constructed. An ambiguity emerges from the relationships between layers of imagery, a means to resist the desire to select and square off neat narratives as though they are whole. An economy of images is established within and between paintings; some imagery is given precedence, some is made barely legible. Humour plays an important role in Johnson's work, as a means to draw people into a reflection on the content of the paintings, particularly if they are addressing subjects such as the failings of a colonising society caught between trying to process, and trying to avoid processing its histories.
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: Ends, New Museum, New York (2017); Warm Ties, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2017); 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.