b. 1979, Australia
Painting serves as a critical departure point for Helen Johnson’s practice, as a set of tools that work beyond language to figure the relationship between subjective, internal reckonings and broader cultural constructs. Her works engage a broad visual vernacular, including spasming stock market graphs, colonial blueprints, corporate manuals, grassland ecosystems and cobbled together bodies. Encompassing archival material, contemporary cultural referents and intuitive drawings that are at once 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 identity at both personal and national levels in the context of Australia — 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 in 2002, a PHD (Fine Art) from Monash University, Melbourne in 2014 and a Master of Art Therapy, La Trobe University, Melbourne in 2023. Selected solo exhibitions include: The red thread of history, loose ends, Balnaves Commission Exhibition with Judy Watson, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; yapang/Museum of Art and Culture, Lake Macquarie (2022-2023); Art on the Underground, London (2021); 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) and Problem History, MADA Gallery, Monash University, Melbourne (2014). Forthcoming solo exhibitions include: Opening, Pilar Corrias, London (2023) and Follower, Leader, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth (2024).
Selected group exhibitions include: Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria (2023); Home Sacer, La Trobe Art Institute, Bendigo, Victoria (2023); A Year in Art: Australia 1992, Tate Modern, London (2021-2023); Carnivalesca: What Painting Might Be, Kunstverein Hamburg (2021); Trouble in Paradise: Collection Rattan Chadha, Kunsthal Rotterdam (2019); Today Tomorrow Yesterday, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2018); Painting. More Painting, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2016); Collage: The Heide Collection, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2013); Negotiating This World: Contemporary Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2012); Art & Australia Collection 2003 – 2013, Newcastle Art Gallery, New South Wales (2012).
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.