Counterculture comprises small- and medium-scale works which derive their imagery from subjects of longstanding interest to Johnson, including blues music, Tibetan Buddhism and UFOs.
“The idea of a ‘counterculture’ was something I grew up with,” says Johnson, who was born in Sydney in 1947 and gravitated towards conceptual concerns early on as an artist.
“It was about standing outside the existing system and creating a new culture that was empathetic, peaceful and creative.
“As it turns out, many of the things I make art about are like this – alternative, non-Eurocentric, initially ‘underground’ or obscure but eventually widespread.”
Johnson’s knowledge of, and affection for, early Blues is apparent in a grid depicting 25 legends of the genre, each delicately painted on a 10 x 10cm canvas.
Included are such foundational figures as Leadbelly, Ma Rainey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Memphis Minnie, Lonnie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
While most of the squares are monochrome, colour has crept into several portraits, including those of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, reflecting advances from black-and-white to colour film in the photographic source imagery Johnson has utilised.
Along with Punk Rock, Blues has been Johnson’s music mainstay for decades and he often listens to it while painting.
“Robert Johnson influenced rock’n’roll and Lonnie Johnson influenced jazz,” he explains. “The blues was appropriated by a white audience as a way of inventing rock’n’roll, especially through Leadbelly. George Harrison once said: ‘No Leadbelly, no rock’n’roll.’”
Just as musicians riff off one another, so do artists, and collaboration has long been a part of Johnson’s practice. Included in the show are paintings co-authored with Daniel Bogunovic, a self-taught artist from Los Angeles with whom Johnson has been collaborating for 15 years.
Yamantaka 2022 depicts a Buddhist protector deity. It was created using the pair’s paint-and-post method, whereby Bogunovic sends Johnson a canvas on which he’s painted a Buddhist figure in the middle and Johnson responds accordingly.
“I’ve been studying and practising Tibetan Buddhism for more than 30 years, and it’s become an interesting contribution to my art,” says Johnson.
“I like the idea of painting as an abstract-expressionist activity but with figurative or recognisable imagery,” he says. “I’m using more colour than usual and brightening everything up. I’m also trying to paint straight from the heart a bit more, without research or planning, but rather finding something inside myself.”
Sofitel Melbourne on Collins
Summer Salon Show
Sofi’s Lounge, Level 1
25 Collins Street
With thanks to Global Art Projects
Image: Tim Johnson Thredbo Valley 2021, acrylic on linen, 183 x 244 cm
If a painting is a portal to another dimension, then the canvases of Tim Johnson are magic carpets, each one an invitation to embark on a voyage through the acclaimed Sydney-based artist’s personal cosmology. Revealing his sustained interest in Buddhism and other Eastern traditions, these serenely composed constellations of figures, objects and symbols inhabit an exalted space free from everyday concerns.
Johnson’s first show in five years with Tolarno Galleries, which has represented him since 1987, Parallel Universe brings together twelve new paintings, five of them made in collaboration with Daniel Bogunovic, a self-taught artist who lives in Los Angeles.
Image: Tim Johnson Thredbo River 2020, acrylic on linen, 101 x 137 cm
Download the exhibition essay by Tony Magnusson.