Artist. Helen Johnson
Organisations. Artspace, Chapter Gallery, ICA
Helen Johnson – b. 1979, Melbourne. Lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.
For over a decade Johnson has explored the complexity of the colonial relationship between Australia and Britain. Warm Ties comprised newly commissioned work and formed Johnson’s first public solo exhibition. The show was exhibited at ICA London in 2017 and Artspace Sydney in 2018.
Johnson creates densely layered canvases, weaving and overlaying historical and contemporary signifiers to create points of tension and reflection through the medium of painting. For Warm Ties Johnson delves into the colonial relationship between Australia and Britain on the level of the body with her large-scale paintings mounted on a structure that zigzags through the space. Johnson resituates images of British, colonial white men as imperialist brutes, sycophants and greedy solipsists – scaling them up and reasserting them she reimagines colonial era images.
When Warm Ties premiered at the ICA, Johnson took into account the ICA’s location on The Mall, close to the seat of power that served as the originary point of Australia’s colonisation. Some images concerning Australia’s fraught relationship to British culture and power were freighted back to their point of origin. Humour plays an important role in Johnson work.
The original zigzag exhibition layout figured prominently within the ICA’s display and was derived from the layout of Canberra, Australia’s capital city. In the later iteration at Artspace, the original zigzag structure disintegrated and dissolved.
The Keir Foundation is delighted to have partnered with Artspace on the commissioning of Johnson’s works in Warm Ties.