Samuel's Magic Lesson was painted during Michael Johnson's one year residency at the University of Melbourne in 1986. For Johnson this was a turning point in his career. The acrylic medium that lent itself so wonderfully to his hard-edged works of the 1960s and 1970s, was abandoned for the lusciousness and fluidity of oil paint. Of this transition Johnson says "I was getting out of watercolours into oilthe old fear oilI fear oil, even though it is the most natural thing to paint with and I love it. But I fear its trickery." (M Johnson in B Pearce, Michael Johnson, Sydney, 2004, p.92)
As John McDonald describes "Each work had an individual character, but the basic approach was the same. A soft ground is laid down (in these primary stages the works resemble Rothkos and landscape zones), then layer upon layer of oil paint is added and manipulated by brush and palette knife. The coup de grace is applied by a calligraphic whirl squeezed directly from the tube onto the canvas." (J McDonald, 'Michael Johnson', Art & Australia, Vol.24, No.3, Autumn 1987, p.349)
It was at this point that Johnson began working with the three distinct zones in his painting, which hint simply at sky, earth and water. "Johnson's works have begun by suggesting architectural associations and ended up conjuring ideas of marshy landscapes, aquatic scenes and the substrata of the earth.like a poet moving from iambic pentameter to free verse, or a musician going from a fixed score to brilliant improvisation." (J McDonald in B Pearce, op.cit., p.98)
The titles Johnson chooses for his work often relate to a state of mind; the location of the works execution; a book or poem of inspiration or the rich colours that dominate the painting. In this case, Samuel's Magic Lesson, refers to his father who was the one who taught him the magic of drawing.