Quentin Sprague is a writer and curator based in Geelong.
Some works, the painter Helen Johnson explained to me recently, can’t help but take on different characters as they find their form in the studio. Some are less likeable than others, needy even. Earlier this year, she was pushing a new series towards a looming exhibition deadline, and one painting was proving particularly recalcitrant. Before she knew it she had obliterated one layer after another. “If this painting were a person,” she told her studio assistants at the time, “I wouldn’t be friends with it at all.”
Johnson, a thoughtful figure in her late 30s, works from a studio in Eltham, the bushy suburb in Melbourne’s north-east. The area is known for its creative history – Montsalvat, the famous communal artist village, was established there in the 1930s – but this had little to do with Johnson’s decision to push outwards from the expensive city studios in which she had...
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