Jeffrey Smart

Learning Resource

A painting of a truck carrying two shipping containers driving towards a distant row of repeated matching apartment buildings.

Jeffrey Smart
Truck and trailer approaching a city


Truck and trailer approaching a city
1973 Tuscany, Italy
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
75 x 150.4 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 1980
© The Estate of Jeffrey Smart
Photo: AGNSW

Thinking about this painting, Smart commented in 1999:

‘I wanted to see if I could bring off a satisfactory composition which had a line down the centre, dividing it into two equal parts ... This is the first painting in which the apartment houses have that really impersonal quality ... amazingly similar to the pattern of memory cells in a computer. The sky is painted mainly with raw umber and mauve – with so much red, a neutral area was absolutely necessary.’

Look at how richly coloured the trucks are and compare them to the rest of the colours in the composition. What comes to mind when you see the colours orange and red?

Notice we don’t see the bottom of the truck wheels or the road. The painting also crops off the top of the red truck. Why has Smart cropped the picture like this? What impact does it have?

Certain colours catch the eye. Designers and artists understand how people worldwide symbolically read shapes like stripes, arrows, crosses, triangles and circles.

Modern art movements like Russian Constructivism have used a simple black square or a red cross to make political commentary and Australian conceptual artists John Nixon and Richard Tipping have followed suit, manipulating road signs to create visual puns.

Watch the BBC video (see link below) about the designer of British road signs and the design priorities involved, including a reference to Banksy’s well-known alterations of some of those signs.

Design your own work on paper with gouache paint or collaged, coloured paper cut-outs to make simple and didactic symbols typical of road signs and create your own mysterious political message. When you are finished, see if others in your class can read your message.

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