Sutton Gallery is pleased to present Meantime, an exhibition of new paintings by Helen Johnson that, slipping between figuration and abstraction, sees Johnson further develop and complexify her painterly vernacular. Incorporating an exciting and affecting range of techniques, Johnson’s paintings take a provisional approach to representations of and debates surrounding the nexus of national identity, everyday culture and political life in Australia.
With a strong interest in testing the limits of her approach to painting, Johnson’s use of paint in Meantime is as considered and exploitative as ever: layering iridescent paints and gloss medium between thick swathes of paste-like acrylic. Johnson further pushes the medium with precise masking and stenciling, which is contrasted by the immediacy of fabric prints made with denim and jumper offcuts that add a warmth and familiarity to the clothes worn by the figures in the paintings.
Painting serves as a critical departure point for Johnson’s practice, as a set of tools that work beyond language to encircle a range of contemporary issues. The works in Meantime 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 in Meantime 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’.i
Continuing on from her previous exhibition at Sutton Gallery in 2011, System Preferences, in which Johnson made subtle use of imagery relating to contemporary political attitudes and influences in Australia, Meantime offers a similarly informed yet equivocal engagement with Australian politics— although the work makes some address to political subject matter, it is not ‘political art’ per se. Johnson avoids the propensity for her subject matter to translate as an opinion piece, instead establishing grounds for in-depth contemplation and debate.
Helen Johnson has exhibited regularly with Sutton Gallery since 2007. Recent individual exhibitions include: Dead Metaphor, ACME Project Space, London, 2012; Universal Remote, Y3K Gallery, Melbourne, 2011; and System Preferences, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2011. Johnson has also contributed to a number of significant group exhibitions both locally and internationally, including: 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.
iHelen Johnson, 10/5/2013.Artist’s profile