Tim Johnson

Yantra, 2008
acrylic on linen
183.0 x 325.0 cm
signed, dated and inscribed with title (on the reverse of each panel)

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Collaborating artists Karma Phuntsock (Tibet, b. 1952) & Nava Chapman (Australia, b. 1973)

Roundabout, Wellington, New Zealand
Private collection, Queenstown, New Zealand

Roundabout, Wellington City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, 2010
Roundabout Face to Face, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2011

Thomas, Nicholas, Roundabout, ArtAsiaPacific Publishing, 2010, pp. 92-97
McDonald, John, 'Tim Johnson', http://johnmcdonald.net.au/, 9 May 2009, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 2009

Johnson draws on a variety of experiences and sources to make ethereal, floating landscapes. The artistic and spiritual practices that have shaped his view of the world are joined visually and conceptually in his canvas panels that brim with transcendent possibilities.

His signature vibrating field of white dots overlaying soft plumes of colour, create a sense of deep space; like a new plane of existence where different sacred and non-sacred symbols, elements and artists’ hands meet and collaborate.

 In 1980 Johnson visited Papunya, where the Western Desert was revealed to him in dot sequences. He was given permission by the senior artists to use this sequencing, which he continues to do in this context. At the same time, Johnson developed an interest in Buddhism and Asian art. These two forces have guided his practice for over three decades.

The yantra in the third panel is a mystical diagram that serves in meditation as a centering device. It is used to draw consciousness away from the outer world to the inner – a logical, concentric structure that is also a symbolic gateway to enlightened seeing.

A yantra has been described as a point on a surface, which serves as a field for gazing. Johnson’s panels contain many such points, like dots, that symbolise unity and origin; they are kernels that carry the potential to expand your inner knowledge.

  • Yantra

Courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

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‘…one has to work in a symbolic space, perhaps like the Buddhist Pure Land, or the mandala itself, to create an illusory reality or a virtual reality in which the space that the artwork occupies is revealed to the audience that can read enough signs to unravel its meanings.’ (Tim Johnson, quoted in Wayne Tunnicliffe, ‘Pure Land Painting’ in Tim Johnson: Painting Ideas, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, p. 58.)

Tim Johnson’s paintings are fascinating cross-cultural documents that embody the inherent multiculturalism within contemporary society. Born and trained in Sydney, Johnson began as a conceptual and performance artist, establishing the Inhibodress art space in Sydney along with Mike Parr and Peter Kennedy. In 1975-76, Johnson travelled to North and South-East Asia, where Buddhist spirituality and culture left an indelible impression.

Johnson first travelled to Papunya, Northern Territory, in 1980, where he learned dot painting with Aboriginal artists including Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. After seeking permission to continue incorporating indigenous techniques within his paintings, Johnson developed a visual vocabulary that placed the vibrancy of the dot alongside symbols and icons of Asian religion and folklore. The resultant paintings are spiritual landscapes, testaments to Johnson’s connections to different aesthetic traditions around the world. He and his then-wife, the writer and sociologist Vivien Johnson, were instrumental in introducing these Central Australian artists to the art market and increasing the Australian public's awareness and appreciation of First Nations art and culture.

More recently, his contemplation of mythology has led Johnson to popular culture, with symbols from science fiction, video games and Japanese anime being incorporated alongside traditional images of the Buddha or the lotus flower. The common feature of these disparate influences is the sense that there is a shared consciousness of images and symbols from all cultures that makes sense to audiences from all backgrounds.

Tim Johnson has worked and exhibited for almost five decades, both alone and collaboratively with the likes of Karma Phuntsok, My Le Thi and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. In 2009-10, a major solo exhibition, Tim Johnson: Painting Ideas toured the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, and the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. He showed in 2012 at The Unseen, the Fourth Guangzhou Triennial, China, and has been included in three Biennales of Sydney.