Review Blog

Jul 19 2018

Master of stillness, Jeffrey Smart by Barry Pearce

cover image

Wakefield Press, Revised edition, 2018. ISBN 9781743053393.
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. Non-fiction. "Master of stillness" is the perfect title for this beautiful book which through its collection of photographic images traces the evolution of the art of Jeffrey Smart, born in Adelaide then eventually resident of Italy for 5 decades. The artworks are grouped by locations - Adelaide, Sydney, Rome and Tuscany - but if when you read Rome and Tuscany you expect images of ancient architecture, villas and rolling hills, you'll be surprised to see here modern landscapes of fences, roads, and concrete slabs, for it is Smart's fascination with lines, planes and shapes that dominate his work.
He wrote, "people often think concrete structures ugly... But the play of light on the precast slabs, the mystery of the building is beautiful to me."
They are 'still' paintings, quiet, the human figure mostly a minor point, an intersection of lines, or an indicator of scale. Clearly Smart had a mastery of the human form, seen most impressively in, 'Wine carriers', 'On the roof, Taylor Square' and 'Morning practice, Baia' but usually the human figure is strangely lonely in the urban landscape, the human element even ominously lonely with the depiction of the empty pram on the beach in 'Holiday resort' and 'Approaching storm by railway'.
Turning the pages of this book, it is fascinating to trace the development of the artist's discovery of beauty in lines, textures and shapes, from the early examples of still life, to the buildings and fences, roads and bridges, leading to his last and ultimate work 'Labyrinth', with the portrait of H.G. Wells, a small figure placed in the maze of straight stone walls with shadows making triangles amid the rectangular shapes.
This book is a wonderful celebration of a great Australian artist - it is a book to treasure, and deserves a place in the art section of every library.
Helen Eddy

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