Vale, Jeffrey Smart – Master of Stillness
Born Adelaide South Australia 1921
Died Arezzo Italy June 20 2013
Words move, music
Only in time; but that
which is only living
Can only die. Words,
after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only
by the form, the
Can words or music
The stillness, as a
Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its
– T S Eliot, Burnt Norton, Four Quartets
Labyrinth – Jeffrey Smart’s last painting
If a good painting comes off, it has a stillness,
it has a perfection, and that’s as great as anything
that a musician or a poet can do.
– Jeffrey Smart
Jeffrey Smart liked to compare himself to an old carpenter working away at his bench, an image that may seem surprisingly humble to those who knew him as an ebullient, witty and outspoken man. But he understood as well as Proust that the man and the artist are different beings; that the man can be garrulous, hilariously silly and take pleasure in superficial distractions, but the artist operates at another level, descending to a solitary and silent depth where the work of the imagination unfolds.
Those who have been to the house near Arezzo in Tuscany know that the short walk across the courtyard to the studio represented this transition from one world to another, from extroversion to introversion, from banter to concentration. “I have to go and paint a whore by the roadside now,” he observed to me as he took his leave from the conversation to resume his meditative labour.
It must have been this that Jeffrey missed most in the past year or two of reduced mobility, for the vocation of an artist is not one from which you can retire; the work at the easel is life itself.
Smart was a great Australian painter, but he was also an example and role model of how to be a great painter. The first lesson he offers us is the absolute necessity of following one’s instinct for what seems true and important, and not allowing oneself to be drawn by fashion into the vacuous and the derivative. The second is to find a subject substantial enough to sustain one’s interest across time, and to allow for development in depth without mere repetition. And the third is to evolve a working method that allows one to progress towards the realisation of inspiration in concrete form, to turn ideas and intuitions into pictures; and this where we must admire the devoted, stubborn, daily work of the old carpenter at his bench.
– Christopher Allen
National art critic for The Australian, and author of Jeffrey Smart: Unpublished Paintings 1940-2007 (Melbourne, 2008)
Read the full version Christopher Allen’s article, published in The Weekend Australian June 22, 2013 HERE
This page has links that will be of interest to those who would like more info on Jeffrey Smart and his work.
4 thoughts on “master of stillness”
Wonderful Master Painter who will be missed.
miriam louisa, thanks for this last post. i was not aware of smart’s work or life. the post really touched me. best to you, claude
Thank you for this. I was moved by these various portraits of him. Another window you have opened for me.
Thanks for your comments Ron, Claude and Deborah – I’ve now edited the post to add a link to Christopher Allen’s full article in last weekend’s The Australian.