02 June 2011 - 25 June 2011

Helen Johnson, System Preferences


Sutton Gallery is pleased to present System Preferences, an exhibition of new works by Helen Johnson. Engaging with an expanded concept of painting, Johnson's work explores the possibilities of this medium in a contemporary context, all the while making subtle use of imagery relating to present political attitudes and influences in Australia.

System Preferences refers most obviously to the control panel of the perniciously ubiquitous Macintosh, though it also refers to the systems of painting, and how they might be rethought in a contemporary context - and, on a broader level, how we might like things to be run [or] what systems we would like to see in place'.

The works in this show continue Johnson's investigation into, or questioning of, the role painting can play in contemporary society. She offers a flexible, engaged way of making that understands art as a means of communication to incite discussion. Displaying an obvious knowledge of the historical narratives of painting, Johnson moves beyond a restrictive, purely materialist notion of what painting can mean. Instead, as is fitting for our time of post-medium-specificity, she chooses to engage with other, more outward-looking mechanisms. For Johnson, painting is not a problem that needs to be solved; rather, it is free to introduce tangential thoughts and ideas.

As the genesis for System Preferences, Johnson has applied a reductive approach to traditional materials, using stretched linen primed with rabbit skin glue, drapes and pared back watercolour magazine illustrations as her media basis. Though the grounds of the paintings are prepared with dye, the actual painted mark reveals a ghost-like presence.

There is also an intriguing use of political imagery in these new paintings, which depict porcine mining barons, cardboard voting booths and ministerial sleights of hand, among other things. Part of Johnson's approach to System Preferences is to see what happens when political figures - including Julia Gillard and Clive Palmer - are painted without specific, polemical intent. Ducking under a propagandist aesthetic, Johnson's paintings do not claim to serve as a political messenger for didactic statements, instead reflecting a convergence of subject, materiality and stigma.


Artist's profile

View artist profile: Helen Johnson


Artwork from exhibition by Helen Johnson,


Big Boy, 2011
Synthetic polymer paint, wax pencil, dyed linen and rabbit skin glue
66 x 76 cm