From the catalogue essay for an exhibition by John Johnson, Jenni Kemarre Martinello and Yhonnie Scarce at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space Gorman House, 26 August – 1 October 2011.
Resurrection represents both the ending and the beginning of an intensely personal journey for John Johnson. Creating these works has been a rebirth for the artist; after years of personal struggle he is confronting his past experiences through his artwork and looking forward to the future.
John Johnson is descended from the Warramunga and Wambya peoples of the Northern Territory but has been living and working in Canberra for the last 25 years. Primarily a painter, he has also worked as an installation artist, performer and art teacher.
His work is strongly political, addressing social issues such as the treatment of Indigenous Australians since colonial settlement, displacement of peoples, the Stolen Generation, deaths in custody and the environment. Resurrection is a collection of works that explore these highly charged topics. The title reflects not only a personal resurrection, but suggests the continued resurrection of these social issues which directly affect Indigenous people yet continue to be disregarded by white Australia.
Still hunting us is highly emotional mixed media work created in response to an appalling incident which happened in 2009 in Alice Springs, when a young Aboriginal man was beaten to death by a group of five white men who had been systematically terrorizing Aboriginal people in the area. Johnson draws our attention to the explicit and largely unchecked racism which still occurs so prevalently in Australia. He poses the question: how can our country evolve when racism has become so entrenched in the dominant ideology?
Johnson’s work typically incorporates traditional elements of Aboriginal painting such as the colour palette, handprints and elements of the landscape, and distinguishes the work as his own through the addition of imagery such as airplanes and barbed wire. Through the use of a bold palette and arresting imagery John Johnson captures the attention of the viewer directly and draws them into a story of ongoing struggle and heartbreak, with the promise of redemption.