Sculptor Greg Johns has made and continues to make a significant contribution to sculpture and contemporary art in Australia.
The latest book to celebrate his career, Edge of Time: Greg Johns Sculptures 1977-2015 by John Neylon, provides insights into the studio practice of the artist and charts his career from the early years right through to today.
From early on, Johns was attracted to outdoor sculpture. “I really like the idea of getting the work outside the gallery and in a way it involves the public in the work,” Johns says. “I think it’s important to put challenging and thoughtful work out there.”
Johns himself identifies a shift in his work from a more international style, which could have been from anywhere, to works from about 1990 onwards which have a more Australian feel about them. Says Neylon, who also writes for The Adelaide Review, “Johns’ sculptures are distinctive in that they make statements about the nature and necessity of European Australians’ engagement with the land.” In 2002, Neylon wrote Horizon, also about Johns’ work, but since then Johns has taken his work into new territory and so the time seemed right for another book documenting his career.
This was the rationale for Edge of Time. “ The transition from formally organised geometric con figurations to far more open-ended and organic structures represents a new-found con fidence in taking ideas and forms on a journey,” Neylon says. While Johns has done a lot of overseas commissions in places such as Spain, England, Singapore and New Zealand, it’s the development of the Palmer Project that Johns sees as most significant. Palmer, a former sheep grazing property Johns bought, contains 35 of his sculptures and plays host to a sculpture biennial.
For Johns, Palmer is about making a statement. “It’s not a sculpture park,” Johns says, “it’s an engagement with Australian landscape over 400 acres; it’s something quite different.” Johns is trying to make contemporary sculpture with forms that belong to this point in time, that have an Australian look and feel to them. Neylon: “Increasingly for Johns it is the land that defines Australian cultural identity.”
The main material Johns uses is Corten Steel, which he feels re flects the colours of our harsh landscape. Johns also uses wood, which he sometimes burns, and broken stone. “I think those things are fairly re flective of Australia,” Johns says. One of the main themes in his work is the idea of interconnectedness but this is symbolic rather than literal.
This notion is present in Johns’ sculptures in the form of the circle or the in finite line. “Often in a lot of my forms and even in the more recent figurative forms there is one continual shape, one line that might create a whole lot of di fferent patterns and forms. You start at the beginning and go to the end, and the end connects up to the beginning. I think that’s a really important notion to put across.”
Neylon’s book Edge of Time provides an insight into the work of one the Australia’s most important sculptors. Johns is extremely passionate about Australian public sculpture and its importance, and right now he believes we are lacking quality commissions.
“Adelaide is crying out for some signi ficant sculptures that make some real statements in a variety of ways,” Johns says. “We need some freeing up and room to move.”
John Neylon, Edge of Time: Greg Johns Sculptures 1977-2015