One of the recurring themes in the development of the Art Collection at UTS (and earlier, the NSW Institute of Technology, or NSWIT) has been to address the vast expanse of concrete in the foyer and other public spaces inside the Tower building. Various solutions have been attempted since the Tower’s first occupation in the 1970s, including giant Pop Art billiard balls, suspended hang-gliders, Polish textiles, and mural-sized paintings.
One artwork which has stood the test of time is an untitled painting , from 1969. by local artist Michael Johnson. Originally lent to NSWIT by gallerist and collector Ann Lewis while she was serving on the Institute’s Fine Arts Committee, this modular canvas added some much-needed colour into what was seen as a drab and cavernous space.
In this painting, vibrant blocks of colour are thinly applied with no sign of brushwork – a feature of the minimal style of “colour-field” painting of the time. It provides a wonderful contrast to the quarry-like surfaces of textured concrete in the Tower. Although far distant from the heavily layered surfaces of his more recent paintings, similar canvases by Johnson earned him a place in ‘The Field’, a highly influential exhibition of Australian art held in the newly re-opened National Gallery of Victoria in 1968.
Johnson’s painting became a part of the permanent UTS Art collection in the 1990s, joining several other important paintings from the same period. It can be viewed in the mezzanine area above Level 3 of the UTS Tower building, near the Alumni Green entrance.
Assistant Curator (Collection)
This article originally appeared in U Magazine, April 2013