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: Agency, Pilar Corrias, London (2019); Warm Ties, Artspace, Sydney (2018); 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.
Helen Johnson lives and works in Melbourne.