Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Helen Johnson

Follower, Leader

Helen Johnson Fri 9 Feb – Sun 31 Mar Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) FREE
  • Australia
  • Past Event
Fri 9 Feb – Sun 31 Mar at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), FREE

Presented in association with Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA)

Naarm/Melbourne-based artist Helen Johnson’s celebrated painting practice is characterised by an ongoing questioning of the medium’s properties, its surfaces and material processes of layering, and its capacity to open a space for critical thinking and reflection. Well known for her large-scale, figurative works that wrestle with so-called Australia’s colonial histories, more recently Helen has explored ideas around woman- and motherhood. 

Follower, Leader brings together a group of paintings and prints created while Helen was training as an art therapist, a move that has accompanied a radical reorientation of her practice away from the archive and research-based approach for which she is known, towards a focus on metaphysical conceptions of bodies. Drawing from dreams and intuitively generated imagery, Helen’s new figurative paintings contend with ‘how the intensities of being in the world are held within each of us’. Shaped by her experiences of motherhood, alongside therapeutic conceptions of care and connection, Follower, Leader resonates with the maternal principles of ngaangk – of creation, beginnings and re-beginnings.

The title of the exhibition, Follower, Leader, points towards the process of painting itself. ‘I make decisions about a painting, and at some point, the painting begins to make decisions about itself, and about me,’ Helen writes. ‘Follower-leader is not a hierarchy, but a circular dynamic.’ The works in the exhibition centre this kind of open experience. Often free-hanging and double-sided, her unstretched canvases invite viewers to move between the paintings, to linger and dwell on shifting impressions as they emerge from the surface. 

Follower, Leader is Helen Johnson’s first exhibition in Western Australia.

Helen Johnson is a visual artist based in Naarm/Melbourne. Painting serves as a critical departure point for Helen, a set of tools with which to work intuitively to explore subjecthood and its implication in broader sociopolitical structures. At once loaded and contextually specific, Helen uses an insistently aesthetic approach, employing material processes of imprint, excavation, effacement and negotiation to draw out the metaphorical potential of her imagery.

Recent exhibitions include the red thread of history, loose ends at the National Gallery of Art in Canberra, touring to the Museum of Art and Culture/yapang, Lake Macquarie and Monash University Museum of Art, Naarm/Melbourne, 2022-23 and A Year in Art: Australia 1992 at Tate Modern, London, 2022-23. Solo exhibitions include Pieces of Work at Château Shatto, Los Angeles, 2021; Agency at Pilar Corrias, London, 2019; Ends at the New Museum, New York, 2017 and Warm Ties at the ICA, London, Chapter Arts House, Cardiff and Artspace, Sydney, 2017-18.

Helen has work in many public and private collections in Australia and internationally. In 2015 she published Painting is a Critical Form, developed from a PhD in Fine Art completed at Monash University. She is currently training as an art therapist with a psychoanalytic orientation. Johnson is represented by Château Shatto, Los Angeles and Pilar Corrias, London. 

Time & Location

Fri 9 Feb – Sun 31 Mar

Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), 51 James Street, Northbridge / Yandilup


Free Event

Gallery Opening Times

Tue – Sun
10am – 5pm

Exhibition Opening
Thu 8 Feb 6.30pm

Event Partner

Presented in association with


  • Helen Johnson, 'Conversation Piece', 2022, synthetic polymer paint and pencil on canvas. Courtesy the artist.