Reputedly the first contemporary Pacific artist to exhibit as a painter in New Zealand, Johnny’s natural talent and desire to become an artist began as a child in Samoa. Johnny began exhibiting successfully as a painter in 1972. In recognition of his excellence and ongoing contribution to the arts, Johnny received the Creative New Zealand 2002 Senior Pacific Arts Award. He was the Cook Island Artist in Residence in 2005 and the 2007 recipient of the Macmillan Brown Pacific Artist in Residence. His work is held in public
During the 1980s he experimented with a diverse range of sculptural materials including steel, aluminium, fibreglass, bone, argillite, greenstone, limestone, and discovered a passion for working in stone. He states, “Stone is my favourite medium. It’s so hard, you have to be hard with it to make it do what you want it to. It’s by far the most challenging.” Attracted to the challenge, permanence and ancient tradition of stonework, Johnny is well respected for his vast knowledge and ability to work most rock types.
One of his favourite stones to work with is the Gabro stone, which is plentiful in Southland but easily mistaken for granite. Whatever medium he chooses Johnny’s talent reveals a mastery of form, achieving delicate open cutwork and detailing on ornamental, pendant and jewellery size pieces of obsidian and jade, to smoothly surfaced full scale monoliths. Inspired by oral tradition and storytelling, Johnny seeks to provide future generations with a tangible, inspirational record of the past, a visual record of “where we have come from, to where we are now”. His sculptures incorporate both traditional Polynesian and contemporary patterns, symbols that convey our historical pathways as well as life in Aotearoa today.