Interpreter-john birmingham

John Birmingham's first book, He Died With a Felafel in his Hand, was a bestseller and a film. Brisbane based, he has also written for newspapers and magazines.

the Verdict (in pale pink)

If Jeffrey Smart was a romantic artist, and his stark modernist landscapes not so profoundly antihuman, this is how they might look. It's like Stuart has gone out of his way to paint a smiley face on Jeffrey's oeuvre here.

I'm sure he didn't, but for me it's an inescapable effect of the composition, the subject matter and the technique used in Verdict. Smart's work, which I love, is all about the implied violence of man's modern built environment. The figures never smile. The sky is often dark and looming. Hard edges and impenetrable surface are all.

The same elements are found here, and yet softened and redeemed. The smog which so often billows through a Smart landscape, is here replaced by gentle wash of clouds coloured by the sunset.

The crushing of landscape under concrete and steel is not so much implied as atoned for by the softened and almost crumbling facade of the building, which only just peeks into view.

And the two people seem so relaxed in others presence that they must surely be smiling, even if we cannot see them. They stand as if at a journey's end, and certainly a day's end, and remain in view only because the fading sun is so warm and pleasant. Soon they'll retreat inside - an off stage space nicely implied by the way you can see through the corner windows of the apartment - dark blue night will fall, and this kindler, gentler realist scene will be swallowed up inside the wide vessel of the universe.

This work evokes a very strong sense of place for me, even if the image isn't sourced from that place. I look on this and I know they are perched over the bay at Bondi, at least in my mind's eye. But unlike Old Man, and unlike a Smart painting, this one is not coloured by a lonesome palate.