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Barnaby Smith

Barnaby Smith is a critic, poet and musician currently living on Gundungurra and Darug land. His writing on art, literature, film and music appears regularly in Art Guide Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Quietus, Metro, Australian Book Review and others. He records music as Brigadoon and released the album Itch Factor in 2020:

Barnaby Smith reviews 'Nick Drake: The life' by Richard Morton Jack

November 2023, no. 459 27 October 2023
Nick Drake’s ‘Fruit Tree’, one of his best-known songs, addresses the idea that even if an artist is ignored in their lifetime, their legacy can be secured, and their work imortalised, with an early death. The song, as we learn from Richard Morton Jack’s exhaustive biography of the English singer-songwriter, was partly inspired by the precocious English boy poet Thomas Chatterton, who comm ... (read more)

Barnaby Smith reviews 'Campese: The last of the dream sellers' by James Curran

January–February 2022, no. 439 22 December 2021
The Australian team that won the 1991 Rugby World Cup must rank as one of our most charismatic national sport teams in modern times. The side that defeated England in the final at London’s Twickenham Stadium included several players now regarded as undisputed greats of global rugby: John Eales, Tim Horan, Jason Little, Michael Lynagh, and captain Nick Farr-Jones. There were also stirring ‘unde ... (read more)

Barnaby Smith reviews 'Untwisted: The story of my life' by Paul Jennings

January–February 2021, no. 428 16 December 2020
Paul Jennings’s literary career can be traced back to three whispered words from the author Carmel Bird, who taught him writing at an evening class in Melbourne in 1983. ‘You are good,’ she told him. Jennings was an unpublished forty-year-old at the time, yet within two years Penguin had launched his first short story collection, Unreal! Jennings recalls this moment with Bird in the opening ... (read more)

'Mank' (Netflix)

ABR Arts 26 November 2020
Despite nearly eighty years having passed since its release, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) is never far from the centre of cultural discourse. Aside from the fact that it tops ‘greatest movie’ lists with monotonous regularity, Citizen Kane often comes into view in somewhat quirky ways as it relates to today’s world. For example, there was Donald Trump’s much-publicised and much-deri ... (read more)

Barnaby Smith reviews 'The Toy of the Spirit' by Anthony Mannix

May 2020, no. 421 28 April 2020
Any definition of what constitutes ‘outsider art’, or art brut, is elusive. The boundaries of this ‘category’ are notoriously porous. There is no manifesto, no consistent medium, nor is it especially tied to any single period in time. However, it can be argued that outsider art is often regarded as art created by those on the margins of society, such as people in psychiatric hospitals, in ... (read more)

The Professor and the Madman (Transmission Films)

ABR Arts 17 February 2020
When the British author Simon Winchester published the book The Surgeon of Crowthorne in 1998, the idea was, according to his editor, to ‘make lexicography cool’. The non-fiction work told the bizarre and oddly uplifting Victorian-era tale of the autodidactic linguist and scholar Sir James Murray and his relationship with William Chester Minor, a retired American army surgeon incarcerated at B ... (read more)


ABR Arts 28 March 2019
Popular culture is still resonating with the impact of Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out, one of the most extraordinary and confident directorial débuts of recent times. Get Out cut a swath through complacency and assumptions regarding race relations. The idea of wealthy, ageing white people transplanting their brains into the bodies of young black men to prolong their lives was, to put it mildl ... (read more)

Green Book

ABR Arts 21 January 2019
The Negro Motorist Green-Book by Victor Hugo Green, 1940 facsimile edition, paperbackTo browse through an edition of The Negro Motorist Green-Book in 2019 (as can be done through digital library archives) is a disquieting experience. These books, written by Victor Hugo Green in 1936 and published for thirty years, offered advice to African Americans travelling in the segregated American South. The ... (read more)


ABR Arts 29 October 2018
Paul Dano, one of the most soulful and intense actors of his generation, has appeared in a number of films over the last decade in which rupture and dysfunction serve to undermine a family unit. In Little Miss Sunshine (2006) he famously played the voluntarily mute Dwayne, while the elegant and underrated For Ellen (2012) is another meditation on family that sees Dano’s character struggle betwee ... (read more)

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot

ABR Arts 01 October 2018
As a resident of Portland, Oregon in the 1980s and 1990s, director Gus Van Sant became used to the sight of the iconic and iconoclastic cartoonist John Callahan buzzing around the city in his wheelchair. ‘He was a visible person on the street,’ Van Sant said recently on Marc Maron’s podcast, ‘because of his wheelchair and his bright red hair.’ Eight years after Callahan’s death, Van S ... (read more)
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