Nevill Johnson RHA RUA (1911-1999)
Born in Buxton, Derbyshire in 1911, Nevill Johnson was a signiﬁcant ﬁgure in Ireland's art world in the mid-twentieth century. Best known for quasi-abstract still-lives, interiors and landscapes, he was also a talented photographer. After attending Sedbergh School, Johnson went to work for the Ferodo motor parts company, and was soon afterwards transferred to their Belfast ofﬁce, where he took up painting part-time, and became friends with the writers John Hewitt and Louis MacNeice. Inﬂuenced by the painter John Luke, Johnson initially produced tempera works that reﬂected his increasingly Existential world view. In 1936, he and Luke travelled to Paris, where they saw works by Picasso, Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dali, the latter becoming a signiﬁcant inﬂuence on Johnson, who, after his return to Belfast, produced a series of Surrealist paintings. Johnson travelled regularly to the Republic of Ireland, and in 1947 had his ﬁrst exhibition at the Waddington Gallery in Dublin, followed by a second successful show three years later. In 1951, his Cruciﬁxion was included in a touring exhibition presented at the Rhode Island School of Design. By then Johnson was living full-time in Dublin, and he remained there for much of that decade, exhibiting at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and taking black and white photographs of street scenes that were later published in the book Dublin: A People's City. Along with George Campbell, Daniel O'Neill and Gerard Dillon, he was included in a Waddington exhibition Four Ulster Painters, that toured to London. He also had a solo show in Washington DC in 1957 and around that time decided to move to London, where he shared a ﬂat in Notting Hill with artists Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde and there is a period of work by the artist that shows direct influence from them.
A restless and self-critical spirit, Johnson was dissatisﬁed with his own art and although he destroyed many of his paintings during this time, he continued to show with the IELA. In 1970, during which time he was exploring print-making and collage, he had his ﬁrst solo show in many years, at the Collectors Gallery in Notting Hill. Eight years later, an exhibition of his work was held in Dublin, at the Tom Caldwell Gallery. His autobiography The Other Side of Six, was published in 1983 and documents his experimenting with different art styles and media; his earlier Surrealist paintings giving way to more Cubist-inspired work. No Vile Men reveals the inﬂuence of artists such as Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson, but is also a highly-personal work, inspired by Johnson's own thoughts on life and his worries about the future of the world. Johnson is represented in the major galleries and museums in Ireland, as well as the OPW and Arts Council collections. A label on the back of this work conﬁrms it was painted in 1956, while Johnson was living in Convent Place, Hatch Street, Dublin, and that it was exhibited at the IELA that year. The use of hardboard, or Masonite, was popular amongst artists at the time, not least due to the expense of linen canvas.
This particular currently offered is one of Johnson’s very best images.