Helen Johnson: ‘Humour is a powerful tool for an artist’

Meet the artist addressing Australia's colonial history and its ongoing impact on political and social reality

Helen Johnson is an Australian artist and teacher. In her paintings, Johnson addresses colonial history and its ongoing impact on Australia’s political and social reality. Born in 1979 in Melbourne, Australia, Johnson lives and works in Melbourne. Her work blends figuration and abstraction, by representing people, animals and objects from the past in full and in fragments or silhouettes.

Bad Debt 2016, for example, depicts layers of overlapping images, including a bedroom interior with a smashed window, non-indigenous animals, such as foxes and rabbits, and people dressed as a cat, a horse and a man. It portrays Australia as a country with an unstable and conflicted identity while also implying that representation is always partial and subjective.

With the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), Tate has acquired three paintings by Helen Johnson as part of their International Joint Acquisition Programme for contemporary Australian art, supported by Qantas. The programme promotes Australian art globally, helping Australian artists reach new audiences.