Jeffrey Smart

Learning Resource

A painting of a bending street with two boys on very long stilts playing along the right hand side. A woman sits on a grassy knoll on the left and two buildings appear in the background against a dark sky.

Jeffrey Smart
The stilt race


The stilt race
1960 Gadigal Country/Sydney
oil on plywood
56.3 x 91.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased 1961
© The Estate of Jeffrey Smart
Photo: AGNSW

‘As Smart’s visual language evolved, a striking theatricality became increasingly apparent with a dynamic interplay between the real and the absurd or uncanny,’ writes exhibition curator Deborah Hart.

The stilt race conveys dream-like possibilities within the real world. The cropping of the image gives the sense of a moment in time; a glimpse into a world we can only see part of.

Count the figures in this painting. Look at what they are doing and where they are placed. What are you curious about?

Notice how Smart has arranged the composition. How has the artist used line, shape and colour to draw our attention and direct us through the work?

What do you notice about the landscape the artist has created? Imagine you are part of this painting, moving through this landscape. How might you feel?

Shaun Tan is a contemporary illustrator and storyteller, who is similarly inspired by the inner city and suburbia. (See link below.) Compare the work of Tan with that of Jeffrey Smart. What similarities and differences do you notice? Think about how these two artists create landscapes, depict figures and use colour and shape in their work.

Create a three-dimensional stilt walker and scene.

1. Make a figure out of two pipe cleaners. (See link below).

2. Attach the feet to the end of two bamboo skewers. Use coloured wool or ribbon wound around the skewers to create colourful stilts (and hold the pipe cleaners in place).

3. Create a base and backboard from thick cardboard, painting an unexpected scene for your stilt walkers to inhabit. You might do this in groups in your class.

4. Stand your figures up, pushing the pointy ends of the skewers into the cardboard.

Related Links:

From the Audio Tour:

Smart often found artistic inspiration through unexpected sources and in chance encounters. The imagery in The stilt race was drawn from a photograph of boys on stilts in an Ethiopian community. Smart inserted these figures into a night-time urban setting to create a surreal scene. They bring height, drama and a sense of the uncanny to an otherwise mundane view. The signpost with the arrow and the yellow rectangles of a street crossing foreshadow Smart’s later keen interest in the subject of roads and street signs.