Tim JOHNSON, Generic painting Enlarge 1 /1


Sydney, New South Wales, Australia born 1947

  • India, South East Asia 1974-75

Generic painting 2000 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on five linen canvases Support: five linen canvas panels

Dimensions: overall 152.0 h x 380.0 w cm panel (each) 152.0 h x 76.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2001
Accession No: NGA 2001.65.A-E
Image rights: © Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson, who has long been interested in cross-cultural ideas, considers Generic painting to be the culmination of a number of years working with Aboriginal and Buddhist influences. He believes that his work is a way of using paint ‘to document, to reflect and to create some form of narrative, referencing modernism and postmodernism and above all trying to represent the positive side of things’. 

At the heart of Johnson’s approach is meditative search and an in-depth interest in collaboration. In the 1980s, he often visited the Aboriginal artists at Papunya in Central Australia where, after a time of familiarisation and establishing mutual trust, he was given permission to use dots and worked collaboratively with celebrated artists Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Michael Nelson Tjakamarra.

As a practising Buddhist, he has also had various initiations, including the Kalachakra teachings from the Dalai Lama in 1996. In the year 2000 he visited Mountt Kasuga in Nara, Japan, where he was able to study Shinto and Buddhist art in detail. In Generic painting, across a shimmering field of tiny white dots and soft, glowing clouds of colour, Johnson creates a work that pays homage to his teachers and opens up a field of transcendent possibilities. As the artist notes:

Generic painting draws on a variety of experiences and sources to create an illusory world where recognisable cultural signifiers (Buddhist imagery, Papunya dots, Shinto shrines, aliens and UFOs) combine to create a kind of generic space for the viewer. Each panel centres on a subject, the first being West Camp at Papunya in 1981, the next, the historical Buddha touching the earth, the next, Mt Meru the mythological centre of the universe, then the earth itself, then Mt Kasuga, a Shinto shrine in Japan. Interwoven with these themes are many other references and interconnections. Various landscape styles that include a contextualised use of dots and photographic and chance imagery are used to create a field of readable signs.1

Tim Johnson (2001) and Deborah Hart

1Tim Johnson letter to Deborah Hart 2001.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002