Jeffrey Smart

Learning Resource

A painting of a young girl running in front of a construction fence, in front of which is a traffic light and traffic redirection signs. Behind the fence a construction crane and apartment buildings sit in front of a stormy sky.

Jeffrey Smart
The construction fence


The construction fence
1978 Tuscany, Italy
oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
88.5 x 228.4 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville
Gift of Eva Besen and Marc Besen AO 2001
© The Estate of Jeffrey Smart

Contrast and repetition jostle for our attention in The construction fence. Complementary colours give a liveliness to the image while the energy of the girl contrasts with the stillness of the construction site and street.

Smart’s interest in geometry, abstraction and composition informs a painting full of diagonal, vertical and horizontal lines that create areas of pattern that echo across the canvas.

Describe the colours in this painting and how they interact with each other.

Notice where and how Smart has used line, shape and colour in the painting to create strong directional elements, such as verticals and horizontals, and a few diagonals.

Look at how Smart has used both abstract and realistic elements within this work. Describe the real-life objects and the geometric shapes and patterns.

This is a wide painting. Why do you think the artist has chosen this shape for the canvas?

Can you imagine a story that explains the action in this painting? Where is the girl going? Why do you think she is running and what time of day do you think it is?

Hide the running girl’s body with one of your hands when looking at the painting. How does the inclusion of the figure change your experience of the work?

Even though the girl is running, Smart has created an image that seems frozen in time. How?

Create a three-dimensional work inspired by Smart’s The construction fence by making a diorama of an urban street scene or construction site. Using coloured card or painted cardboard, draw and cut out each element in its entirety.

Layer the objects, signs and fences, some in front, some behind, obscuring some elements with the layers. Then try reordering some elements, bringing them forward or moving them into the background.

Create and add a figure, trying it in different places. Photograph all the different effects. See how you can make completely different readings from these elements placed in space in various ways.

This exercise is hopefully a lot of fun and will clarify the conscious contrivances and careful compositions that typify Smart’s paintings.