The choice of colour is an emotional decision that is hard to account for, but it’s related to a physical phenomenon, to a canvas or a piece of paper. For me there’s an unstable, personal, open way of claiming colour. The colour has to occupy or hold the action of the horizontal and vertical framework of the human body, the up and down and sideways.
Putting down a colour, the first thing you do is oppose it with another colour or give it some kind of sympathy. There’s one thing I’m super-aware of right through the 1960s–70s period: at all costs to avoid conventional modelling through chiaroscuro. I wanted to evoke space through the tension between forms, using the energy of colour virtually straight from the manufacturer — without mixing, but in the right proportions.
You start with the experience of bare gesso, the primed canvas, and that is sublime. That is meditation in itself. As soon as you make a mark on it you set up a focus. In my 1960s paintings I felt very awkward about the business of putting a mark in space, because I always actually think of the whole area having a mood.
I don’t see any difference between the spirit of music and the spirit of painting. Not so much painting, but colours. Colour has the same difficulty of floating on airwaves.
Michael Johnson 19881
1 Michael Johnson, interview by Terence Maloon in Michael Johnson: Paintings 1968–1988 Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales 1988.
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