Born in 1908 in Fiji, Johnson moved to New Zeland with his parents when he was 4 years old. He was a naturally gifted child and excelled in drawing, which led him to Elam School of Fine Arts where he studied from 1923-1926. He worked as a lithograph artist and illustrator at Wilson & Horton’s newspaper publishing when he was 18. He then continued on to work in London and then began to study lithography and then life classes at the Central School of Art and Design. He returned to New Zealand and began working at an advertising agency in Wellington, and the following year he was elected a member of the national Academy of Fine Arts. His health broke down which caused him and his wife to move to Piha. He continued painting and drawing, with many of his works being published.