Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson grew up surrounded by art; both his parents were painters and there were framed prints of Vermeer and Albert Pinkham Ryder hanging on the walls of his childhood home in Mosman. Leaving school at fourteen he worked at the Lintas agency, rambled around rural NSW on painting trips with close friend Brett Whiteley and studied at the Julian Ashton Art School and the National Art School in Sydney. In 1960, he decided to travel and departed by ship passing through Egypt, Greece and Italy on route to London. He met Whiteley in Florence and together they decided to travel to Bologna to visit the studio the Italian still life painter Giorgio Morandi. When he eventually arrived in London he spent the next seven years painting full time while also working as a studio assistant to the British sculptors Brian Wall and Anthony Caro. While living in London he immersed himself in the art world and was introduced to Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Oskar Kokoschka. Unlike other Australian artists who found international success through figurative and semi abstracted landscape (notably Sidney Nolan and John Olsen) Johnson’s European experience distilled his love of colour, space and form into highly distilled abstract works. His return to Sydney in 1967 contributed to a generational shift towards minimal geometric abstraction that was reflected in his first solo show at Gallery A and the ground breaking exhibition ‘The Field’ in 1968.

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