Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 August 2015


born 1938

oil on Belgian linen

244.0 x 213.0 cm

signed, dated and inscribed verso: “WIMMERA 2” Michael Johnson 1986... GREEN BIG.

$40,000 - 60,000

Private collection, Sydney 
Gene and Brian Sherman collection, Sydney, 
acquired from the above in 2000

Catalogue text

As Australia's leading abstract painter, Michael Johnson is renowned for his impressive compositions that overwhelm the senses. Deeply rooted in colour theory, Johnson's oeuvre is a tour de force on the analysis of light, human experience and the tactile qualities of paint. For Johnson, the act of painting is a process that consumes body and soul; such is the large scale of the paintings and his physical interaction with each work. Pulsing with movement and rhythm, one can feel the amount of energy that has been applied to create these imposing works and visualise the simultaneous collaboration and exertion between the artist and medium. Luminous layered colours of paint are built up and reworked to form textured interpretations of the environment, a certain mood or even sound.

After living abroad in London and New York in the 1960s and early 70s, Johnson returned to Australia in 1975. Inspired by the international art scene, on his arrival back home Johnson re-evaluated his existing technique. In the early 1980s, his style evolved from geometric and minimalist compositions to the acclaimed horizontal zones of abstraction, as portrayed in Wimmera II, 1986. Shifting away from acrylics or water based synthetic paints, he also began to work with oil paint, a medium previously feared and avoided.1 As a result of these innovations, the works from this period 'are remarkable for their lack of compromise. Turning his back squarely against easy-on-the-eye qualities, he confronted all that was most difficult about painting.'2

Painted in 1986 during this pivotal moment in Johnson's career, Wimmera II is a lyrical example of the artist's orchestration of colour, form and force. The bold colours that constantly shift and change under the light, oppose linear marks that cut vertically down the painting as melding visions of the sky, the horizon, land and water harmonise together. As art critic John McDonald observed in 1987, Johnson's artistic evolution was a triumph: 'Michael Johnson's latest work is a defiant rejection of modern alienation. It is this properly transcendental stance - corresponding to a hard-fought triumph over provincialism - that, for me, testifies to Johnson's clear superiority over the other living Australian painters of his generation.'3

1. Pearce, B., Michael Johnson, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2004, p. 92
2. Ibid.
3. McDonald, J.,'Michael Johnson', Art and Australia, vol. 24, no.3, Autumn 1987, p. 346