Eric Lee-Johnson

Suva, Fiji, 1908-1993

Born in Fiji to an Australian father and a Fijian-born mother, Eric Lee-Johnson was raised in the King Country, and attended primary and secondary school there. At 16, Lee-Johnson left to study at the Elam School of Fine Arts, working as a lithographer and illustrator during the day and studying art in the evenings. In 1930, he emigrated to London, continuing to work as a commercial artist and designer. While in London, Lee-Johnson began to exhibit his paintings, and also took up photography, a medium which he returned to throughout his life. In 1938, Lee-Johnson returned to New Zealand, still working as a freelance illustrator but determined to focus on his painting. Under the patronage of Terry Bond, Lee-Johnson was able to live rent-free in a cottage on Bond’s property at Mahurangi. Lee-Johnson was a member of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, and had his first major show in this country in 1946. Lee-Johnson continued to exhibit paintings over the next three decades, culminating in a major retrospective show curated by the Waikato Art Museum, in 1981. Lee-Johnson was a committed regionalist, whose painting sought to capture the imperfect, frontier aspect of the New Zealand landscape. In addition to painting, he amassed a substantial archive of negatives and prints over the years, which remained unseen until after his death. Not wanting to associate his painting practice with what was then seen as a less prestigious form of imagemaking, Lee-Johnson kept his photographic practice at arm’s length, even to the extent of crediting his work to the pseudonymous “Spencer Hill.” However, his photographic practice has become an important part of his legacy, and he is now remembered as an artist who was at least as skilled with a camera as he was with a brush.

Essays
Auction Results

Opo: The Hokianga Dolphin (#48)

1955

gelatin silver print

243mm x 194mm

Achieved $780.81