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Helen Johnson

Helen Johnson: Let the Painter In and Out

10 September – 12 November 2022

Hannah Mathews

Helen Johnson: Let the Painter In and Out provides Australian audiences with an opportunity to experience the recent work of Helen Johnson, arguably one of the most significant painters of her generation. Johnson’s early works celebrated her community of peers, addressed the architecture of the gallery and examined the relationships between subjective, quotidian experience and broader sociopolitical constructs. In recent years, her unstretched, double-sided paintings have questioned Australia’s history and the ongoing effects of colonialism—thematising a society caught between trying to process, and avoid processing, its histories.

For Johnson, painting provides a space where such calcified narratives and events can be reconsidered by being brought into new relations. Different images appear and interweave in the surfaces of paintings whose layers allow for a slow, emerging and entangled visual experience—a metaphor for the complex nature of the construction of meaning and history. As Olivia Barrett has written, ‘Pictorial and textural planes collide, negotiate amongst themselves, and unfurl in manners reminiscent of the ever-shifting structures which underscore both sociological and interpersonal systems. Through these methods, Johnson’s work embodies the meta-cognitive space produced by painting in which neither thought nor sensation are entirely in control.’

Having been grounded in figuration for many years, Johnson’s practice has shifted with her experiences of birth, motherhood and the pandemic. Her most recent works approach bodily representation through grids composed of small, portable sections that mark the artist’s response to the confines and separations of lockdown. These sections are united by intertwining forms on the surface of each painting.

Curated by Hannah Mathews (Senior Curator, MUMA), Helen Johnson: Let the Painter In and Out continues MUMA’s much anticipated and celebrated annual survey exhibition series that presents the practices of Australia’s most exciting and innovative mid-career artists. Johnson’s works have been exhibited widely overseas, including exhibitions at the ICA, London (2018); New Museum, New York (2017); and Glasgow International (2016). She is currently training as an art therapist.

Helen Johnson is represented by Sutton Gallery, Melbourne; Pilar Corrias, London; and Château Shatto, Los Angeles.

Image: Helen Johnson, University (Institutional being) 2021, synthetic polymer paint, graphite pencil and water-soluble intaglio ink on canvas, 89 x 67 in / 226 x 170.2 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Château Shatto, Los Angeles