Welcome to the first in a series of Sunday night guest blogs, with Amy Chaplin at the desk.
Amy studied Architecture at Deakin University and after lots of chatting we realised that have a mutual love of many things Art/Architecture and design. So, without further adieu, its over to her as she looks at one of my favourite artists of all time – Jeffrey Smart!
You can find Amy at @amychaplin1 on instagram.
Jeffrey Smart, Morning Practice, Baia, 1968.
Smart was an Australian born artist who painted urban landscapes in a precisionism style. He focused on finding the beauty in mundane objects and structures of the 21st century life. Smart chose not to discuss much of the process within his painting however most of Smart’s works were a combination of real architecture, sculptures and figures creatively portrayed across a canvas with hyperrealist elements and exaggerations.
Smart was an incredibly calculated and precise painter, always aiming for perfection which for him was to achieve complete stillness within his works.
I have always believed that a detailed timeline and location overview was unnecessary to understand an artist and their style however it is helpful when looking at someone like Smart, an artist who was so ultra-conscious of his surroundings and planned about his life. He had always said that he would leave Adelaide, live in Sydney for 10 years and then immigrate to Italy, and so he did.
Smart’s obsession with finding the beauty in the mundane, everyday life came from growing up in Adelaide amongst an Industrial revolution in the 20s. Smart was far more fascinated by the slums and evolving industrial area than the gum trees and park lands which is what I feel made him so unique compared to many other Australian artist of this time. He admired the confusing composition of urban construction with tall chimneys, temporary scaffolding being erect in different locations, pipes and poles creating a mess of ‘ugly’ elements. This was where Smart first started drawing and exploring the alleys and laneways of Adelaide which I believe symbolically paved the way for his artistic expedition and again revealed themselves as a full circle in his final painting, Labyrinth.
Smart went to Sydney in search of more rural environments and architecture, he wished to paint the transience of human presence in rural country towns. Abandoned towns became a strong theme within the artist’s work, using dilapidated architecture to portray emptiness within the stillness of his work. I believe Smart used old architectural structures to communicate human evidence and the decomposing of them suggests the idea that nothing ever lasts. One of Smarts’ internal battles as an artist was the challenge to create art that lasts the same way music and poetry does.
By the mid-60s Smart had started to achieve critical and financial success as an artist. Creating art that held such lonely, stillness that I believe only a country like Australia could contribute with its unique vastness. This is why the planned move to Italy at first confused me. Italy, a country so famously known for its picturesque landscapes and overtly obvious beautiful cities seemed to be to be the opposite of what Smart had sought for in the past. It is said that Smart was looking for something new; a challenge. Now he had to look for the imperfections within what he called “The Italian mess” of a country transitioning through a post-war Industrial boom.
I believe Smart was first and foremost inspired by his surroundings, the urban and rural architecture around him was portrayed obviously throughout his works. He also held a great interest in architecture, traveling the work to visit and view it. He had a goal for some time to become an architect but trained as a draftsman and referred to himself at times as a frustrated architect. T.S. Elliot’s poetry, especially Wasteland was a major inspiration to Smart’s search for rural Australian towns, as well as Russel Drysdale’s work focusing on County Towns. Stylistically Smart was inspired by the Italian Renaissance classics and their technical skills. Piero della Francesca’s the Resurrection held such stability and perfection that Smart refers to is as a work that holds time in stillness. Smart aimed to create artworks that had a renaissance style stability but 21st century life atmosphere; with Industrial architecture, geometry and figures as well as his own hint of surrealist elements.
I think it is Smart’s determination and technique that earned him the regard of one of Australia’s greatest artist. Smart saw things differently to many other artists of his time. It is difficult to appreciate the precariousness of his vision in the 21stcentury where Industrial architecture and Business districts are no longer dramatic but far more familiar.
Smart painted petrol stations and trucks not for their objectivity but for the shapes made from the light shining on them, the lines that made up geometry of the architecture, the spaces that made up the urban atmosphere. Smart said that it is not the object that matters, it is the revelation of the object that matters.
I found Jeffrey Smart to be an incredibly inspirational artist and felt I could relate to his struggle with achieving perfection in his outputs however I believe he got far closer than most and retired satisfied with his final painting Labyrinth which is now residing in the National Gallery of Victoria. I would recommend watching Jeffrey Smart: Master of Stillness if you wish to know more about Smart’s life and artistic views. It is a short documentary including interviews with the artist and a view into his studio and Tuscan villa in Italy where he retired.
Jeffrey Smart, Labyrinth, 2014.
After looking into Smart’s styles and practice I developed some questions for Jasmine as she is a fellow Australian artist who I believe is equally connected to her surroundings. The two have very different artistic styles, however I wanted to know if Jasmine shared any of the same inspirations and alignments with Australia, its architecture and Urbanism.
What side of the Australian landscape are you drawn to as inspiration in your works?
I must admit I have an equal infinity to both. I have only ever lived in small regional towns, surrounded by the natural world, which in its turn tends to have its own suffocating qualities and so I seek out the man made and the cityscapes to feel lost in. My work has long had a fascination with the architecture of the urban environment. The desire to draw metaphors from structural objects has always been with me. Perhaps it is in the juxtaposition of both that there is room for further investigation within my work. The recent Thought Catcher (sculpture) I made for example, is an exercise in that. A man-made urban object in a natural setting. I came to love the work of Jeffrey Smart for his ability to capture the qualities of both.
Do you feel your direct surroundings have a strong influence on what you paint?
I work from a bank of images long stored in my head and in my imagination. If anything, changing my surroundings often gives me fresh energy to work.
Do you gain inspiration from other forms of art?
I write poetry. Writing this way helps me order my thoughts when I am unable to draw or paint. I have many, many notes on my iPhone in my own style of word/verse.
What different styles are you trying to combine within your art?
I am always thinking of ways to push my work, using different mediums is one way to do this. At the moment I am very much enjoying making installations and sculpture as a way to extend the ideas within the paintings.
Always one thing inspires the next and so on and so forth, and so I think the best way to make art is to just keeping making it and keep drifting outside your comfort zone.
If you wish to view Smart’s paintings in person, I recommend visiting the National Gallery of Victoria as they have a selection of his works permanently displayed. They are also currently doing a virtual collaboration with the Australian National Academy of Music where they will be performing musical responses to artwork collections, including Smart’s (https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/program/anam-at-ngv/#date1).
If you wish to view more of Jasmine’s sculptural and installation works as well as some behind the scenes of her newest Thought Catcher sculpture she has a new interview on her YouTube (below) which you will enjoy! An image from this shoot is also available for purchase via Georgie Mann Photography.
If you have any Artists you would like to see me investigate or interview. Please get in touch with your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org