Jeffrey Smart and the Perspective of Time I

Portrait of Clive JamesThe Tarrawarra Museum of Art’s current retrospective of Jeffrey Smart’s work from 1940-2011,  which runs until 31 March 2013, includes the Portrait of Clive James (1991-92), a painting of an internationally recognisable expatriate Australian writer and broadcaster at the height of his career by a locally celebrated expatriate Australian artist.

James is a solitary and distant figure in a cityscape obscured by a corrugated fence which, if the viewer were two steps closer to, would obscure James altogether. It is only James’s renown that transforms the painting from a chance encounter between artist and subject to a portrait in which their isolation is overcome by recognition and familiarity: it is easy to imagine that, with his arms resting casually on the barrier of a traffic overpass, he has recognised someone in the shadows – is it Smart the painter, or us the viewer?

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