I must really like the Tim Johnson exhibition, Painting Ideas, because I’ve seen it twice. Last year I saw it at GOMA and this year I went to see at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. And I keep on thinking that I want to think about this exhibition a bit more before I write anything – but the exhibition is over already.
The exhibition reminded me of the Gilbert and George exhibition that I saw at the Tate Modern in 2007. Although Painting Ideas is considerably smaller, the story is the similar. A conceptual, performance artist in search of a way of turning ideas into images. After some difficult and strange art the artist finds their voice and now their art is in the collections of major museum.
When I saw “Painting Ideas” at GOMA the open plan gallery arrangement lead me chronologically through the development of Johnson’s now familiar style. At the Ian Potter Museum, the history was told backwards from galleries filled with Johnson’s now familiar style and then upstairs to his early work. Telling a history backwards or forwards does not make a big difference; it is just another way of looking at the causal relationship.
Tim Johnson’s early work was not familiar to me but I’ve seen plenty of similar art from that era. The punk energy that Tim Johnson pushed on the boundaries is familiar. The variety of conceptual and performance art of the time indicated a growth in the arts, as well as, a desperate search for a solution. And the solution for Johnson was to return to painting images and to collaborate with other artists. And Tim Johnson collaborators with many other artists: Tibetean born artist, Karma Phuntsok, Brendan Smith from Brisbane, Vietnamese born, My Le Thi, or the Australian Aboriginal painter Clifford Possum Tjapaitjarri. Not that you can tell where the work of one artist begins and ends, given that the images in the paintings are all from somewhere else, some other tradition.
Tim Johnson’s mature paintings are post-modern pastiches (as in “cut up” – see the comments for more about the word pastiche, which isn’t esactly right) of icons from everywhere contained in a field of dots over a field of colour. They are not so much paintings of ideas but the flow of images in a visual hypnagogic revelry of consciousness.
The paintings are images of a mindscape of a multi-cultural, multi-faith Australian identity. The use of dots is an attempt breaking down the apartheid walls in Australian art. The paintings are landscapes of the mind; mytho-geographic landscapes of Buddhist/Hindu and Australian Aboriginal mythology mix in his paintings along with contemporary manga and pop images.
There is a Youtube Video of Tim Johnson in his studio.