'The subject matter is only the hinge that opens the door, the hook on which one hangs the coat ... My main concern always is the geometry, the structure of the painting ... Most pictures I paint stay broadly painted while I move them about, doing sketches, small studies, overpainting again and again. Only when I have the shapes in the right places do I then 'paint it realistically'.' - Jeffrey Smart (1)
The witty Corrugated Gioconda -- a series of visual attention grabbers -- shows tower blocks and palm trees fronted by a corrugated galvanised iron fence, worse-for-wear, multi-coloured and poster-laden, with the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile advertising a new publication about Leonardo by the Italian publishers Fabbri Editori.
All Jeffrey Smart's paintings are made with exemplary care and craftsmanship and he produces only four or five each year. He is concerned with 'putting the right shapes in the right colours in the right places'. (2) In Corrugated Gioconda, the impeccable use of lines in the floors of the apartment building echoes the reverberations of the corrugated fence. The division of the pictorial space into defined sections has mathematical precision. The diagonal from the lower left to upper right discreetly carries La Gioconda's smile.
We are offered the most celebrated of old master paintings amid contemporary banality. This is the world in which we live, where we see much but understand little, one promotional poster upon another, obscuring meaning. Smart's paintings offer opportunities for interpretation. He sees beauty, not in a flower or a garden, but in airports, roads, fences and tower blocks, and from them he makes mysterious compositions. As his fellow artist James Gleeson remarked: 'He is a narrative painter who deliberately refrains from telling a story'. (3)
When Corrugated Gioconda was first exhibited in 1976, a reviewer in the Australian picked it out from among 17 paintings and 18 studies, as the 'most powerful painting in the exhibition, and the most technically exciting'. (4) Smart, the master of composition, the technical virtuoso of Australian art, is the painter of urban landscapes who reveres the traditional skills of his profession. Having lived in Italy since 1965, Smart has described himself as 'a European with an Australian passport'. (5) He visits Australia, exhibiting regularly, and has an enviable status as an artist attracting public and critical appeal. Corrugated Gioconda is a particularly strong painting, in Edmund Capon's words 'a classic Smart composition'. (6) Smart can take months to find 'the germ of a picture' (7) but, when he does, he pursues it systematically with an elaborate series of drawings and oil studies before the final composition is addressed. Corrugated Gioconda began when Smart saw an image in a 1973 calendar for the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. He noted:
The base colour of the calendar was deep blue. It seemed that it could be a wall of many colours with a white building block in the middle distance. To begin with I painted acrylic over the actual calendar. The part of the wall or fence below the building was of course, in shadow. To make it look like a fence I drew vertical lines on it. These became corrugations. (8)
The first two studies for Corrugated Gioconda are also in the National Gallery of Australia's collection.
Brian Kennedy, 2002
(1) Jeffrey Smart in Sandra McGrath, 'Jeffrey Smart', Art International, Jan--Feb 1977, pp.17--19, 25 (p.17) quoted in John McDonald, Jeffrey Smart: Paintings of the 70s and 80s, Roseville: Craftsman House, 1990, p.34.
(2) ibid., p.23.
(3) James Gleeson, Modern Painters 1931--1970, Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1971, p.98.
(4) Sandra McGrath inthe Australian, 23 November 1976, p.10.
(5) Quoted in Jeffrey Smart: Drawings and studies 1942--2001, Sydney: Australian Galleries, 2001, p.32.
(6) Edmund Capon, Jeffrey Smart Retrospective, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1999, p.2.
(7) Jeffrey Smart in ibid.
(8) Jeffrey Smart in Peter Quartermaine, Jeffrey Smart, Melbourne: Gryphon Books, 1983, p. 89.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002