Artist Tim Johnson's unique synthesis on show at Nancy Sever Gallery in Canberra
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Artist Tim Johnson's unique synthesis on show at Nancy Sever Gallery in Canberra

Tim Johnson: Floating worlds

Nancy Sever Gallery, 4/6 Kennedy Street, Kingston

Tim Johnson, West Camp 2, 2016 (detail).

Tim Johnson, West Camp 2, 2016 (detail).

Closes July 10; Wed-Sun, 11am-6pm

Tim Johnson is the great "synthesiser" in Australian art. In music, a synthesiser brings together a considerable range of different instruments, as well as natural sounds, all of which combine into a harmonious whole.

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Tim Johnson, Yamantaka, 2015, with Daniel Bogunovic.

Tim Johnson, Yamantaka, 2015, with Daniel Bogunovic.

In Johnson's art, his synthesising goes beyond mere eclecticism, which involves sampling or the absorption of disparate elements: rather it is the integration of different religious iconographies, periods of time and visual codes. It is not an attempt to create a visual Esperanto, but within this process of gathering of different sources, they are superimposed, one on top of the other, to suggest an alternative realm of being. Johnson leaves the seams clear for everyone to see as he brings together Papunya dot painting, medieval Christian iconography, Buddhist, Tibetan, Japanese and Chinese imagery, plus the occasional flying saucer.

To further complicate matters, Johnson in this exhibition also incorporates "ready made" amateur paintings, bought from opportunity shops, that he terms "thrift paintings", to which he and his collaborator, the West Coast American artist, Daniel Bogunovic, add their own contributions. In this manner Mr Spock and Captain America also enter into the fray in this exhibition. Johnson for many years has been a serial collaborator with Aboriginal artists, Asian artists and Native American artists, and in this exhibition, in addition to Bogunovic, the Tibetan artist, Karma Phuntsok, also makes a contribution.

Tim Johnson's artistic vision is unique in Australian art and I can bring to mind no completely convincing contemporary international parallels. Working primarily in acrylics on canvas, he maps out his floating cosmographies suspended over a sea of mesmerising, shimmering dots that find their origins in Central Desert painting. In the large glowing canvas Yamantaka, 2016, painted collaboratively with Bogunovic, a floating Chinese temple shares the picture space with traditional Christian iconography from scenes of the Nativity, Annunciation and the Resurrection, Buddhist iconography and the floating UFO.

In another painting, one of the strongest in this exhibition, West Camp 2, 2016, Aboriginal artists squat on the ground working on their canvases, while Buddhist imagery harmoniously accommodates a flying saucer overhead plus grazing animals. What is particularly attractive in these works is that there is no projection of the artist's ego or clash of different codes. All is allowed to co-exist without the imposition of a hierarchy of significance. A pagoda, shrine or temple is given the same significance as images of artists at their work, animals and inanimate objects. There is a tranquillity of spiritual vision, one that is in harmony with itself. However, this harmony does not arise through assimilation, but the celebration of diversity.

Tim Johnson, Operation Highjump, 2015.

Tim Johnson, Operation Highjump, 2015.

The artist explains his thinking behind such paintings in the following terms. "I've immersed myself in a world of art styles in a number of ways, through travel, study, the information media and from personal contact. The paintings reference a reality that is a bit apart from the modern, materialist, Western world. By looking at Indigenous, traditional and religious art I found new ways to paint and a new sense of purpose and possibility."

After more than half a century of making art, Tim Johnson has established an artistic vision that is uniquely his own and one that is receiving national and international acclaim and recognition.