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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Lotus born



Tim Johnson


01 Sep 1947 -

Karma Phuntsok


1952 -

Brendan Smith


22 Apr 1964 -


In his paintings Tim Johnson traces connections he perceives as underlying artistic and spiritual practices across countries and cultures. Johnson began making art in the late 1960s and, along with Mike Parr and Peter Kennedy, was one of the founding members of the Sydney co-operative experimental art gallery Inhibodress. Inhibodress only existed for two years but it was a catalyst for the development of conceptual, post-object and performance art in Australia.

Later in the 1970s Johnson returned to painting and in 1980 he acted on an earlier seemingly prophetic dream and visited the Aboriginal artists of the Western Desert, spending time at Papunya and working with senior artists in these communities. Johnson was at this time given permission by the senior artists to use the dots associated so strongly with Western Desert art and which have become integral to his own. Johnson’s iconography is a mix of cultural borrowings and imagery from his richly inventive imagination. Concurrent with his study and experience of Western Desert painting, Johnson’s interest in Buddhism and Asian art developed as he explored early Chinese cave paintings, Tibetan and Japanese art, and later American Indian art.

The title of this painting 'Lotus born' is the translation from Sanskrit of the name Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), an historical figure who is shown in the centre of Panel 5. A great adept, he brought Buddhism to Tibet. This and the many other figures and forms that inahabit these canvases float across a field of dots placed in concentric circles. Apart from their source in Aboriginal painting, the dots also recall diverse influences such as the pointillism of some French impressionist paintings and the dot matrixes of photographic reproductions which were explored by pop artists such as Lichtenstein. Spiritual beings, Japanese anime characters cohabit with people in Johnson’s visionary universe as a plethora of figures, including Buddha’s, Egyptian gods, trees, temples, creatures real and mythological, and mandala forms hover on the canvas. The optically vibrating plenitude of the dots painted over the shimmering haze of colours contributes to a sense of space and time which is potentially boundless yet links the disparate elements into a visually harmonious field.

Johnson with collaborators Brendan Smith and Karma Phuntsok explore how symbols and motifs from differing cultures, places and times can be combined visually as well as conceptually, resulting in these richly imaginative multi-layered paintings. They seem to propose a parallel perceptual plane to our own in which seemingly incommensurable strands of earthly life, otherworldly manifestations and spiritual imaginings can make sense as part of a greater whole.




Media category


Materials used

synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 9 panels


9 panels: each 198.0 x 91.5 cm; 198.0 x 823.5 cm overall

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. verso each panel, black fibre-tipped pen "Tim Johnson/ 2006".


Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2006


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Tim Johnson

Works in the collection


Artist information

Karma Phuntsok

Works in the collection


Artist information

Brendan Smith

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


Wayne Tunnicliffe, Tim Johnson: painting ideas, 'Pure land painting', pg. 58-71, South Brisbane, 2009, 68 (colour illus.), 69, 159.

Wayne Tunnicliffe, Look, 'Tim Johnson painting ideas', pg.26-29, Sydney, Feb 2009, 26 (colour illus.), 28 (colour illus.), 29. illustration on page 26 is a detail of panel i