Painting Ideas

I must really like the Tim Johnson exhibition, Painting Ideas, because I’ve seen it twice. Last year I saw it at GOMA and this year I went to see at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. And I keep on thinking that I want to think about this exhibition a bit more before I write anything – but the exhibition is over already.

The exhibition reminded me of the Gilbert and George exhibition that I saw at the Tate Modern in 2007. Although Painting Ideas is considerably smaller, the story is the similar. A conceptual, performance artist in search of a way of turning ideas into images. After some difficult and strange art the artist finds their voice and now their art is in the collections of major museum.

When I saw “Painting Ideas” at GOMA the open plan gallery arrangement lead me chronologically through the development of Johnson’s now familiar style. At the Ian Potter Museum, the history was told backwards from galleries filled with Johnson’s now familiar style and then upstairs to his early work. Telling a history backwards or forwards does not make a big difference; it is just another way of looking at the causal relationship.

Tim Johnson’s early work was not familiar to me but I’ve seen plenty of similar art from that era. The punk energy that Tim Johnson pushed on the boundaries is familiar. The variety of conceptual and performance art of the time indicated a growth in the arts, as well as, a desperate search for a solution. And the solution for Johnson was to return to painting images and to collaborate with other artists. And Tim Johnson collaborators with many other artists: Tibetean born artist, Karma Phuntsok, Brendan Smith from Brisbane, Vietnamese born, My Le Thi, or the Australian Aboriginal painter Clifford Possum Tjapaitjarri. Not that you can tell where the work of one artist begins and ends, given that the images in the paintings are all from somewhere else, some other tradition.

Tim Johnson’s mature paintings are post-modern pastiches (as in “cut up” – see the comments for more about the word pastiche, which isn’t esactly right) of icons from everywhere contained in a field of dots over a field of colour. They are not so much paintings of ideas but the flow of images in a visual hypnagogic revelry of consciousness.

The paintings are images of a mindscape of a multi-cultural, multi-faith Australian identity. The use of dots is an attempt breaking down the apartheid walls in Australian art. The paintings are landscapes of the mind; mytho-geographic landscapes of Buddhist/Hindu and Australian Aboriginal mythology mix in his paintings along with contemporary manga and pop images.

There is a Youtube Video of Tim Johnson in his studio.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

2 responses to “Painting Ideas

  • Tim Johnson

    Thanks for your review, I like it. Someone else called the style a pastiche recently so I’ve been thinking about that. It didn’t seem entirely accurate and was perhaps partly a response to the collaborative aspect of the paintings. If they didn’t know who painted what and why, it might look like I was combining different styles and and maybe losing the original meanings of the imagery. But in fact the Tibetan imagery, usually by Tibetan, Karma Phuntsok or the Hindu imagery, by Hindu, Nava Chapman or the original iconography by Clifford Possum or Michael Nelson was 100% real. What I put around it -images and styles from many sources, might make it look like a pastiche, but once you deciphered the meanings and saw the layering and cross-referencing you’d realise that the dialogue exists in a world of it’s own that is illusory, imaginary and real to the extent that a painting can be real if it’s about something other than itself.

    Best Wishes,

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks Tim. Now that you point it out pastiche is not the right word to use, the idea of pasting together is there in the Italian root word, but it comes with the baggage of a “pasticco” and all that karma of imitation and satire. Perhaps I should have used a word with the same meaning but different karma. “Cut, copy, paste”, “remixing” or “sampling” something more hip-hop in origin, or maybe Wm. Burrough’s “cut-ups”, where there wasn’t a hint of derogatory connotation, where the authenticity of the sample is a given and the appropriation, juxtaposition and mixing is the celebrated creative act. So why do people call your style a pastiche? Stupidity, a failure to find the right word, to adapt the right term to fit the art, a preference for old French influenced art words regardless of their baggage. Cheers, Mark

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