Some abstract artists begin in the landscape, but the origins of my work were in drawing the human body. I began drawing dancers at a small dance school in Rowe Street, Sydney and continued to be involved with Modern Dance in New York in the early seventies.
In dance the body forms a line that expands and follows a continual movement. In painting, the body is engaged in using its own momentum to create both line and form. My connection to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vetruvian Man is both conceptual and physical in that a painting is executed within the limits of your own arm span. How you move and as far as you can reach influences the touch and gesture of paint on canvas. In drawing, that expression is more condensed and perhaps the energy of that work is more concentrated like a coiled spring.
I believe that the body forms the basis of all visual expression. What the human body inspires is often invisible yet it dominates the mathematics of both art and architecture. In 1979 I began a series of small anatomical studies inspired by sketches I had made alongside my students in a life drawing class. In this series I relaxed into the process of carving line into form. Without the model before me, I reached inside my own geometric imagination and worked continuously on organic shapes and the dynamic interaction between dark and light, concrete mass and the void.
My method of painting gouache in transparent veils over crayon created imagery that was powerfully sculptural and full of layered energy. I was inspired by the dignity, diversity and inherent secrecy of the body. Movement is an expression of both the way we inhabit physical space but also how we defy the gravity and fragility of our own bodies. These were not works describing an individual identity but rather universal forms. They were not defining specific body parts either but seeking out the dynamic whole. In these works, as in the greater project of my painting, line and colour are interlocked in a dance, both defining and contrasting their integral roles.
Michael Johnson, 2019