Sofala is a former gold rush town located on the NSW Central Tablelands. An enduring subject in mid 20th century Australian art, its landscape and ambiance had attracted the likes of Russell Drysdale and Donald Friend during the late 1940s, who immortalised the place in their iconic paintings of the area. Inspired by Drysdale and Friend before them Michael Johnson and Brett Whitely made several trips to the region, whilst both employed at Lintas advertising agency, and attending evening classes at Julian Ashton Art School and National Art School, Sydney. Setting up digs in the showground pavilion overlooking Sofala, the two made many studies of the township and its natural surroundings, which would form the basis of future works, such as the Whiteley's 'Sofala' 1958, also in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection.
Johnson's version 'Sofala' 1965, his second depiction of Sofala, the first now held in the National Gallery of Australia, was completed several years later during a seven year period in which the artist had relocated from Sydney to London (1960-1967). In London Johnson was introduced to the latest developments in post-war American art. The early 1960s work of hard-edge painter Leon Polk Smith in particular had a profound influence on the young artist, which is apparent in the minimally divided composition and concentrated palette of 'Sofala'.
Although 'Sofala' is minimally abstract Johnson has not eliminated all references to nature, which the artist would eschew in his minimal geometric late 1960s/1970s works, and would return to somewhat in his gestural lyricist works from the 1980s onward. The square plane of orange has been dissected top to bottom by long and winding double lines, highly suggestive of the earthy colour and curving forms of the countryside.
synthetic polymer paint on linen
176.5 x 176.5 cm stretcher
Signature & date
Signed and dated u.r. verso on stretcher, brown synthetic polymer paint "... M.JOHNSON 1965".
Gift of the artist 2014. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Not on display
© Michael Johnson. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Where the work was made
Shown in 5 exhibitions
John Moores Liverpool exhibition 5 (1965-66), Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 18 Nov 1965–16 Jan 1966
Michael Johnson paintings (1967), Central Street Gallery, Sydney, 01 Feb 1967–25 Feb 1967
Private show (Clement Greenberg), University of Sydney Staff Club, Sydney, 22 May 1968–22 May 1968
The Artists of Hill End:
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 29 Jul 1995–17 Sep 1995
- Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Bathurst 06 Oct 1995–19 Nov 1995
- New England Regional Art Museum, Armidale 10 Feb 1996–31 Mar 1996
- Broken Hill City Art Gallery, Broken Hill 19 Apr 1996–26 May 1996
- Art Gallery of Ballarat, Ballarat 07 Jun 1996–29 Jul 1996
Michael Johnson: London, Sydney, New York. Paintings and works on paper 1960s & 1970s, Annette Larkin Fine Art, Waterloo, 03 May 2014–14 Jun 2014
Referenced in 5 publications
Anna Johnson, Artist Profile, 'Michael Johnson', pg. 56-65, St Leonards, Feb 2016, 61.
Gavin Wilson, The artists of Hill End, 'The aura', pg. 97-112, Sydney, 1995, 101, 102 (colour illus.).
Michael Johnson: London, Sydney, New York. Paintings and works on paper 1960s & 1970s, Waterloo, 2014, 5 (colour illus.).
Michael Johnson paintings, Sydney, 1967, n.pag.. cat.no. 5
John Moores Liverpool exhibition 5, Liverpool, 1965-1966, n.pag.. cat.no. 85; incorrectly titled 'Sofarla'