Jeffrey Smart

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A painting of a man lying in a field of yellow grass on a hill. At the top of the hill stands a transmission tower in front of a stormy sky.

Jeffrey Smart
The listeners

Creation date: 1965

The listeners
1965 Rome, Italy
oil on canvas
91.5 x 71 cm
Art Gallery of Ballarat, Ballarat
The William, Rene and Blair Ritchie Collection.
Bequest of Blair Ritchie 1998
© The Estate of Jeffrey Smart
1998.23


Music composed by Alexandra Spence

The presence of the transmission tower and the thick grey storm clouds lead me to consider the signals that occur in our everyday lives but exist outside our perception. Using a receiver I recorded crackly, whistly, electromagnetic sounds emanating from lightning storms, telegraph wires, and electronic devices.

At the height of the Cold War—a period of tense rivalry between the United States of America, the Soviet Union and their allies from 1946 to 1991—radars and satellites allowed countries to spy on each other in increasingly sophisticated ways. This technology also played a part in the Space Race of the mid-1950s when the United States and the Soviet Union competed to launch spacecraft, probes and satellites into space. The radar dishes and control towers in Smart’s paintings suggest the transmission and reception of surveillance signals. The male figure in The listeners turns his head towards a radar dish and listens intently. In turn, the distant radar dish is also listening.