Born in Sydney in 1938, Michael Johnson grew up surrounded by art with both of his parents having been painters and illustrators. In his childhood home in Mosman, framed prints of Vermeer and Albert Pinkham Ryder hung on the walls, sparking his imagination and love for art.
After studying at the Julian Ashton Art School and the National Art School in Sydney, Johnson left Australian soil on route to London, where he spent seven years painting and working as a studio assistant to British sculptors Brian Wall and Anthony Caro.
Immersing himself in the art world, Johnson worked various jobs in London, such as a conservator and illustrator, while still creating his own paintings. During this time, he was introduced to Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Oskar Kokoschka and lived with good friend Brett Whiteley.
Johnson’s European experience condensed his love of colour, space and form into highly distilled abstract works, characterised by areas of solid colour with flat, unbroken surfaces.
Returning to Australia and moving to New York in 1970, where he remained for six years, Johnson’s work started to show an emphasis on brush stroke and texture.
“I think painting is more about feeling than what you see…I don’t make thick paint for that reason mind you…but I think it is about touch…All painting is invisible in this sense...We feel our way through life, we don’t see our way through life,” he said.
Returning home again in 1975, Johnson chose to settle in Queensland to process the influences he had gathered overseas in Europe, the UK and the USA. During this time he was commissioned for a ten-metre canvas for the James Cook University in Townsville.
“I took a house, and the paintings were too big for it, so when the students went on holidays I took over the refectory at the University…I laid out black plastic so I wouldn’t spoil the floor, got in a spray gun, plasticised the walls and ceilings...and just thought; I am going in for six weeks to paint. I got a 57-foot canvas, rolled it out, went up a ladder and squirted and sprayed and squeezed. I shed seven years of New York infiltration out of my soul”.
Becoming enriched with the diversity of the environment of North Queensland, Johnson had many inspirations such as bird wings, leaves, mammals, reptiles and fish bones, combined with his love for colour and light. Johnson’s nocturnal and oceanic blue works demonstrate a personal memory of staring through the sea on a dark night and admiring the luminescent organisms visible in such dark light.
Since leaving Townsville and returning to Sydney, Johnson has completed many more commissioned pieces and had his work is displayed at major state collections all over Australia. His work also features in many high-profile corporate and private collections and is now the inspiration behind the Art Series Hotel Group’s latest venture, The Johnson.
Michael Johnson once said, “I judge the mark of a great hotel by the works hanging on the wall and the strange and unpredictable faces and movements in the lobby.”
Book now with our opening special of $180 at The Johnson.