Jeffrey Smart

Learning Resource

A man, David Malouf, is the focal point of this painting. He is walking away holding onto an orange pipe rising from a small drain in the ground. In the background a row of bright shipping containers on trucks are parked in front of a tall building with 'Ovidio' painted along the top.

Jeffrey Smart
Portrait of David Malouf

1980

Portrait of David Malouf
1980 Tuscany, Italy
oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
100 x 100 cm
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1983
© The Estate of Jeffrey Smart
1983/0P13


This is a portrait of Smart’s friend, the Australian writer David Malouf, who says of this work:

‘There’s always a kind of playfulness about the way Jeff sees you when he’s painting a portrait ... [Mine] is a very good likeness ... with pointers towards my world. I’m projected almost, against a white tower building, and at the top of that is written ‘OVIDIO’ which is a reference to Ovid [the Roman poet] and to An imaginary life [a novel by Malouf] ... and rising out of the top of my head a line of very square little thought bubbles.'

Describe how this painting is composed. Notice the rectangles and the straight and curved lines.

Of the rainbow of colours in this painting, which are the dominant ones?

As Malouf is a writer, the overalls are not his usual attire nor is the setting his usual place of work. Why might the artist have chosen to depict Malouf in this way? What might these clothes symbolise?

Smart loved creating visual puns and mysterious images that people struggled to decode. How would you decode this painting?

This painting seems like a moment frozen in time. What creates this sensation of stillness?

A poet beloved by Smart, TS Eliot wrote about stillness in his poem ‘Four Quartets’:

Only by the form, the pattern
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.

What do you think this could mean? Write a poem of your own about stillness. Share your poem with the class.

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From the Audio Tour:

In a 2021 interview, Australian writer David Malouf said: ‘There’s always a kind of playfulness about the way Jeff sees you when he’s painting a portrait … I’m projected, almost, against a white tower building, and at the top of that is written “OVIDIO” which is a reference to Ovid and to [Malouf’s 1978 publication] An imaginary life … and rising out of the top of my head a line of very square little thought bubbles … I’m wearing something … I’d never imagined wearing, which is a pair of overalls and espadrilles. I’m handling, goodness knows for what reason, a large pipe that is coming out of the ground. Jeff later said he was evoking my capacity to draw on chthonic [underworld] powers, but I think that was a kind of joke.’