Born Sydney, Australia 1938, lived England 1960–67
Michael Johnson studied at the Julian Ashton Art School (1954–59) and National Art School (1959) in Sydney. In London during the 1960s he experienced first-hand the avant-garde art which informed his interest in abstraction. Mark Rothko’s 1961 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, and Painting and sculpture of a decade 54–64, Tate Gallery in 1964, were significant events that influenced Johnson’s early practice, particularly the scale and three dimensionality of his paintings.
Works of the 1960s and 1970s were hard-edged, geometric abstracts of bold, sharply defined blocks of colour. A painterly texture was introduced in the 1980s that incorporated the mark of the brush and its freely applied strokes. By the early 1990s bands of rhythmic, criss-crossing lines emerged, weaving lines of high colour across a canvas that was divided into three horizontal parts, denoting a landscape structure of sky, earth and sea.
Johnson has exhibited widely internationally, and has been included in the important Australian survey exhibitions The Field, National Gallery of Victoria (1968); The Field Now, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (1984); Field to Figuration, National Gallery of Victoria (1987); and Australian Biennale: from the Southern Cross: a view of world art c.1940–1988, Art Gallery of New South Wales (1988), where a major retrospective of his work was held the following year.
His work is held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, several state galleries and many regional and university galleries.