April 2016 feature artist Rod Johnson

The feature artist for the month of May at Nimbin Artists Gallery is Rod Johnston. In the six years Rod has been exhibiting with us, his work has evolved and expanded dramatically. He started with sculptures made of stone or sometimes wood. He has also done some wild steam-punk creations, but they sell as fast as they come in, and apart from a couple of lamps we don’t have any examples on show at present. More recently he has turned to painting, and produced an engaging and varied range of paintings.

The larger part of his working life comprised a 30-year period of living with the Yolngu people of north-eastern Arnhem Land. Here, working as a government liaison officer he gathered information on families, and kinship patterns. He speaks Yolngu and has been involved in compiling a Yolngu-English dictionary, as well as collaborating with Yolngu people to collect data on flora and fauna for botanical and zoological records.

The pieces he currently has on display in the gallery give a good idea of the range of his painting and sculpture. His sculpture reveals the relationship he has with nature. He spent time with the indigenous people of North America, and they gave him the bear totem, which he has since indentified with, referring to their quiet, slow way of moving through the landscape while embodying an immense, primeval strength. In addition to bears, other creatures representing the deep, obscure corners of nature are represented: a tortoise, a deep sea fish, and even the man, ‘Rock Man’, seems to have appeared from a cave.

His paintings often reflect the same interests as those underlying his sculpture, but also move in very different stylistic directions. In the Gallery’s present display, there are abstract works, rectilinear arrangements of strong primary coloured patterns and textures, or one where wave patterns prevail. There are two collages, depicting images and icons associated with Nimbin and its history. There is one extraordinary light filled canvas called ‘Lenna and the Ducks’ , which features an impressionistic, sun-drenched scene on the edge of a pond, with a woman’s figure in filmy white dress, ducks, luminous water effects, and a golden blaze of long dry grass as a backdrop. Monet visits an Australian farm in summer.

Finally there are two figure paintings which perhaps represent another new direction for Rod, done in a style we could call contemporary naïve. Each shows a large figure relating to a calf in one case and a chook in the other. These figures, both rounded, hunched, seem to contain their energy in an introverted world that encompasses and protects the creature in their care. It’s irresistible to speculate on a parallel with Rod’s own relationship to nature and art, where images of animals or formations in rock or stone are absorbed, and from the image stories are created or create themselves, which then become the basis for a work. As Rod said, he learned from his time with the Yolngu people that every picture contains a story. In this light, Rod’s display at Nimbin Artists Gallery could be seen as a panorama of stories – each work telling its own story using its own totems.

We have done a complete rearrangement of the hangings in the Gallery following the Autumn Arts Extravaganza, so as well as the panel of Rod Johnson’s work, there are lots of new items to see.

Peter Warne reporting for Nimbin Artists Gallery

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