TONY JOHNSTON
The Penguin Studio is located at Whakatiwai near Kaiaua on the Firth of Thames and has been used as a working space continually and living space for short and long periods over the last 22 years by Tony Johnston.
In that time he has had exhibitions at Portfolio Gallery and Warwick Brown’s Ellerton Gallery in Mt Eden.
He has built the Torea Mangu Sculpture situated adjacent to Kaiaua.
He is also working on new and old paintings and has finally built a kiln that he can fire predictably enabling him to complete more tile sections for the bird sculpture and to hopefully commence raku firing and pottery tuition experiences.


Colour portrait of Tony Johnston by Jason Burgess
Black and white portrait of Tony Johnston by Jonathon Clark.
The paintings of Tony Johnston

While undoubtedly an outsider, Tony Johnston is an important ‘below-the-radar’ artist. With a superficially naïve style, Johnston’s work is full of complex detail and is the product of long periods of contemplation and re-working. Finished works range from gentle and lyrical to aggressive and confronting. He is an expressionist, meaning an artist whose work is broadly figurative, but is presented in a loose, dramatic, vigorous or emotional way. He is not a prolific producer, but has been painting for fifty years. His work has not found its way into major public collections, but those lucky enough to own one of his works can testify to the staying power of his art. Johnston has a sure sense of colour and composition, both being balanced and contrasted with often surprising results. A distinctive element is the handling of paint, whereby numerous coats are applied, allowed to dry hard, rubbed back, repainted and glazed to produce a surface where every square inch is full of incident, subtlety and mystery. His subjects are human and animal figures, often distorted in surreal fashion, and landscapes, often views of the Firth of Thames and the hills that form its eastern boundary. He is interested in conservation (the habitats of birds) and recycling (his use of fence palings, found boards and used wood panels as supports).

Like the now venerated Colin McCahon, Johnston uses text in much of his work. Unlike McCahon’s fluid writing and poetic and spiritual references, Johnston uses block texts like a fairground poster. The message is often enigmatic and tongue-in-cheek, posing a challenge to the viewer to relate it to the painting in question. Although he has produced a number of paintings in series (e.g. the Birdness, eUrapas, N.I.M.T  and Patron Saints) Johnston’s works are always unique, always challenging. A visit to his seaside studio is a voyage of discovery.

WARWICK BROWN
2019