Monday, April 13, 2009

Jeffrey Smart (1921-) - Australian Modernist Painter

I've always loved and admired the modernist urban landscapes of Jeffrey Smart - partly cos they remind me of two other favorite painters - David Hockney and the Australian, Alan Oldfield (see earlier posts on both artists).

There is a quality of airlessness and bleaching light in all three, and a clear and spacious setting out of the elements in a picture. A real elegance of formal and geometric design.

Many of these things show one of Smart's strongest influences - the Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca (1445-1492) ...

Piero della Francesca Piero 'The Flagellation Of Christ'

What I particularly like in Jeffrey Smart is the way he selects the most ordinary objects and street-scapes and turns them into something classic, sculptural and monumental.

'Morning, Yarragon siding' (1982-84)

'Bus Stop'

On a social level, I love that Jeffrey Smart has lived his life as an openly gay man.

In an interview I was watching today, he talks in such a natural way about, Hermes (?), his partner of thirty something years - not self-consciously pushing a currently politically-correct agenda.

He is also out-spoken in a more general way - and his candor is a breath of fresh air in the sometimes 'rarified' and chocking discourse of serious main-stream painting.

Second study for 'Monument and car park' (1972)

'Bus terminus' (1973)

The two men have lived most of the last forty in Italy, where Smart bought a house in Posticcia Nuova, near Arezzo in 1965.

Study for 'Holiday'

'On the beach, San Diego' (1983)

On a more personal level, I went to an auction at Lawsons here in Sydney a few years back to bid on a study for 'Cooper Park' ...

'Cooper Park'

... and sadly (in retrospect) stopped raising my hand as the work edged up to $14,000. Bugger! LOL.

I really really love this work.

There is something haunting or foreboding about the scene. Perhaps achieved through the dark sky.

And this, to a degree, is in counter point the guy lying casually back on the grassy hill, legs apart and shoes off. Staring unselfconsciously at the viewer - and maybe in askance. I imagine he's gay. Or want him to be.

Oh well, it's on The Regret List - quite high up in fact!

On a happier note, Jeffrey Smart's autobiography 'Not Quite Straight' was published in 1996. I must go out and get it!


  1. I love his perspective to create a third-dimension scale and the use of dramatic color contrasts.

  2. hey jackscribe

    glad you like/love him too

    BTW, do you know david hockney's work?

    probably not alan oldfield's tho - a local phenomenon only

    all gay which adds something to the liking



  3. Thanks for the intro to an artist new to me. There's a delightful sense of humor to his work, or maybe that's just me. I suspect it would be easy to live with his work, always something new to focus on. If it comes across so wonderfully in the reproductions the originals must really be something. Sorry you missed out on "Cooper Park."

  4. hey paul

    great you like him - glad to have made an intro!

    and a nice point you make about how easy they'd be to live with

    tho i have no personal experience - LOL - my fault entirely

    hopfully, live and learn!



  5. I agree with Paul. This is not serious art in the sense that there is too much whimsy in it. It's a decidedly cartoon-like graphic art - as opposed to serious representational painting.

    In some ways the last painting reminds me of Wyeth's "Christina's World." Although it's attraction for you is not at all surprising considering that it very much evokes the same sort of impending possibility as your former Facebook Photo.

    Alan down in Florida

  6. Thank you for introducing me to this terrific painter. In the last painting, there's a taste of William Whythe (Christina's world) and Edward Hopper, to my eye. His sense of color and perspective seems original. I like David Hockney a lot, but this guy seems like the more "serious" "artist".

  7. hey alan

    i think you under-estimate jeffrey smart - and i don't think i'm being narrowly parochial here.

    he deals with the formal dimension of painting in a way that is similar to david hockney - and that he's not trudgingly and ploddingly serious is a strength - whimsy and importance are not in contradiction - not that i see him as engaging whimsy

    thanks for the drawing a comparison between 'Cooper Park' and my FB photo - i must lie in a park and see if i can look as appealing - i doubt it very much!

    chat soon - hope you are breezing along


  8. hey jason_m

    glad you like his work - i must say i enjoy being introduced to new people

    my first degree was in fine art but i've lost touch with the field since and love it when someone pushes me back in



  9. OMG, an intelligent discussion of art amongst images of blond dudes showing and doing whatever. Heteros have no idea what they're missing.

  10. I don't think I underestimate him at all. I think your interpretation of my comment is wrong. I am not minimizing the quality of his work by saying it is imbued with whimsy and, as such, is not serious. That doesn't mean I don't find him a serious artist.

    Alan down in Florida

  11. hi alan

    i think it was one of those 'lost in cyber' situations

    and my comment seems a bit severe re-reading it - out of step with our other lovely chatty interaction!

    take care


  12. hey jackscribe

    i like it that you like all of life in here, mixed in - sex doesn't have to be just in the bedroom, in a sauna, under a bush in a park, on a blog or wherever!

    and nor does art need to be context-resticted!

    good to hear


  13. Wow...his work is great.


  14. If you were an artist when you did fine arts, you could show us some of that work!

  15. hey jason

    here when you study fine art at uni it's a theory course (history of style, aesthetics, and so on)

    tho there was a prac component to let you get a sense of the various media artists use - i did a tempera panel and some wall frescoing and an etching!

  16. Sorry, Alan di Florida, I don't buy it. "Too much whimsy" and "cartoon" suggest you don't think he's serious as in serious art. And so what if you think that?

  17. Nick, here I believe you can get a fine arts degree either by practice or take the theory/crit route. Of COURSE you did wall frescoing; perfect!

  18. hey jason

    yeah, i think they're offering degrees here now that have more of an applied focus

    if i'd been doing my blog then, i'd had much more material to put on my wall!!! cos there is such a history of the nude in art.

    i did a dreary side-view portrait - a la Antonio Pollaiuolo - on my wall

    i know better now - LOL!