November 19, 2012
Wallaroo is located on the Spencer Gulf coast off South Australia. Jeffrey Smart visited Wallaroo in 1951 and made a number of watercolour studies of the town’s buildings, beach, mining sites and breakwater. Returning to his studio, Smart began mixing all the sketches together, trying them this way and that, seeing how they could agree in a large composition–a painting in oils.
Jeffrey Smart, Wallaroo, 1951, oil on canvas
It is very surrealist. The first modernist style to arrive in Australia while it was still alive in Europe was Surrealism. In the decade from 1938 Surrealism was strongly associated with the formation of contemporary art societies in a number of Australian states. While there was no organised Surrealist movement in Australia, its importance lies in the fact that some of Australia’s leading artists were influenced by Surrealism at a formative period of their careers.
In Adelaide, in July 1942, a band of ‘rebel’ artists including, Douglas Roberts, David Dallwitz, Jacqueline Hick, Ivor Francis, Jeffrey Smart and Ruth Tuck formed a South Australian associate chapter of the Contemporary Art Society. Their inaugural exhibition of painting supplemented by works by James Gleeson, Carl Plate, Nolan and Tucker shocked elements of conservative Adelaide society. The work of these artists favoured distinctively Surrealist conventions. This group was joined by Dusan Marek in 1948 and James Cant the following year.
By 1949 the climate had altered considerably. A combination of the Ern Malley Affair and the William Dobell trial in 1944 had resulted in a swing towards extreme conservatism in the Adelaide art world, and Australia in general. Proclaiming oneself a surrealist in the post-war climate of Australia was tantamount to openly professing a belief in communism.