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Australian art

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Michael Johnson


1938 -


Michael Johnson is a senior abstract painter who first come to prominence in the 1960s as part of a generation of Australian expatriates who lived and worked in Europe or New York. A pioneer of colour field painting in Australia, his work has since been primarily concerned with colour and the manipulation of spatial planes through colour relationships.

Johnson lived in London from 1960-67 and in New York from 1969-75, witnessing first-hand developments in International abstract art while developing his own visual language. Since that time he has consistently emphasised colour as the driving force in his practice.

While living in London in the 1960s, Johnson was attracted to the large-scale American paintings he saw in exhibitions, and particularly an exhibition of Mark Rothko paintings at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1961: ‘When I saw American art, I discovered scale…I realised that you had to go big to create impact with colour.’

Following this discovery he was inspired to paint Anna, a large-scale painting measuring over four meters long, preceded by a smaller study in gouache on paper. These works were titled Anna, a palindrome (a word or phrase that reads the same backwards as it does forwards), as Johnson felt that his paintings were visual palindromes - abstracted, yet symmetrical forms that could be read the same way regardless of the direction they were viewed.

Johnson’s early abstractions were often calculated compositions scaled to the artist’s body or to the wall of the studio or gallery. Torso, another early gouache study from the same body of work as Study for Anna, was also made in London in the early 1960s.




Media category


Materials used

gouache on paper


23.0 x 24.0 cm

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r., green pastel "MJ65".


Gift of Michael and Margo Johnson 2018. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Michael Johnson

Works in the collection