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Michael Johnson Ellamatta Mauve

Michael Johnson, Ellamatta Mauve

The Artist

Born in 1938, in Mosman Sydney, Michael Johnson grew up surrounded by art. Both his parents were artists and the family home was decorated with reproductions of Vermeer and Albert Pinkham Ryder.1 It was one of Ryder's works, Toilers of the Sea, that inspired Michael the most and can be seen in many of his pictures. 2 Between 1953 and 1959, Johnson studied art firstly at the Julian Ashton art School, Sydney and the National Art School gaining a diploma of Art. During this time, he also made close associations with another Sydney artist, to make a name for himself, Brett Whitely. The two artists subsequently met up again in Florence, Italy, as Johnson was travelling to England to study and work in 1960. 3Johnson went onto live in London for seven years working as a studio assistant for British Sculptors, Brian Wall and Anthony Caro. He also made associations with other leading artists such as Frances Bacon and David Hockney. 5 Johnson was also inspired by Matisse, Constantin Brancusi and Albert Albers and it could be said that his European experiences led to Johnson's love of colour so prominent in his works of art.6 Much like the spirit of the time, Johnson's work favoured abstractionism, deliberately avoiding any clear form or gesture yet with his own Australian interpretation. Johnson returned to Sydney in 1967, launching his first exhibition at  Gallery A,  entitled Two Generations of American Painting. This was followed by 'The Field' held at the National Gallery Victoria, the following year. 7 Johnson moved to work in New York where according to Art Series Hotels, he gradually embraced more surface texture and a palette that became identifiable with a bush spectrum. 8 By 1979, Johnson was back in Australia where the environment and ecology provided a major influence on his work. Even the minutest detail was absorbed into his works- the colours of bird feathers, patterns on butterfly wings, fish bones and reptile scales and even how the light shines off the surface of the water.9

As well as lecturing and teaching art in a number of notable schools and colleges, Johnson also took up residencies at the University of Melbourne  and the Ian Joyce Foundation Studio, Sydney.10 Between 1996 and 2002, Johnson again travelled around Europe with a 3 month residency at La Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris.11 In 2014, Michael won the Wynne Prize with a work entitled Oceania High Low at the Art Gallery of NSW. 12 He lives and works in Paddington, Sydney.13

Ellamatta Mauve by Michael Johnson

The Work of Art

According to the Sherman Galleries, Michael Johnson's work is marked by a metaphysical orchestration of colour and a muscularity of presence. His works belie a relationship with nature, natural process and mood.14 The works are abstract, with no emphasis of definable form. The work is so vibrant and deliberate with its execution that the work could be compared to other abstract works, most notably Jackson Pollock's  blue poles. What do you think?

Oyster lines by Michael Johnson Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles


1  Art Series Hotels,  'Michael Johnson' , Accessed 23 January 2018,

2  Artist Prfile, 'Michael Johnson' , Accessed 24 January 2018,

3 Art Series Hotels, 'Miichael Johnson'

4  Sherman  Galleries, 'Artist Profile, Michael Johnso' Accessed 24 January 2018,

5 Art Series Hotels Michael Johnson

6 McCulloch Alan & Susan ed. 'Johnson, Michael' The Encyclopedia of Australian Art, 1994, Allen & Unwin, Sydney. p363

7 Ibid

8 Art Series Hotel, 'Michael Johnson'.

9 ibid

10  ibid

11 ibid

12 Anne Johnson, ' Michael Johnson' Artist Profile, 30 May 2016, Accessed 24 January 2018,

13 Art Series Hotel, 'Michael  Johnson'.

14 Sherman Galleries, 'Artist Profile Michael Johnson'