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Dee Smart’s subject is dancer, choreographer and director Meryl Tankard. After starting her career with the Australian Ballet, Tankard spent six years as a soloist with Tanztheater Wuppertal, the legendary company of German choreographer Pina Bausch. Returning to Australia in 1984, she began creating unforgettable works that crossed dance, theatre and visual art. More recently, she has focused on film and screen culture.
Adelaide-born Smart was 18 when she saw Tankard dance with Bausch’s company at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre. ‘The entire stage was stripped bare and laid with lawn, as were the aisles. I was completely intoxicated, and to this day the glorious smell of freshly cut grass reminds me of an evening where I watched a new wave of strong women challenge my ideas about art and the world I live in,’ she says.
‘I have painted Meryl in her original cocktail dress she wore on stage during a performance with Pina Bausch, when she explained to the audience how she dealt with flies, then showed them by shimmying out of her undies, which she put on her head’, says Smart. Tankard’s mother came up with the unusual but ingenious solution while the family was eating lunch during a holiday in the outback.
Smart is a self-taught artist. This is her second time in the Archibald Prize, having been hung in last year’s exhibition.