Monday 8 December 2008


One of my disappointments of a recent trip to Sydney was that I was a little too late to catch Gemma Smith's show at Sarah Cottier Gallery. So I was really pleased when I found out that Smith was one of the artists featured in Primavera, the MCA's yearly young-artists outing, which I did manage to catch.

I'm really attracted to Smith's crisp, buoyant abstract paintings, and it was great to see a group of small works in the flesh, complete with gently visible brushwork.

However, it was her adaptables - three-dimensional works made of painted plywood, that can be manipulated into various origami-like forms - that I was really keen to see, especially after reading an interview with Smith in issue 5 of Art World.

Smith is very eloquent about her work, and her description of how the sculptural works had emerged made me really keen to see them:

'With the small paintings I acquire certain rules in regard to the types of shapes and colours that I use. In the process of making the work, these limitations build up to the point where I find it's necessary to shake them. The sculptural works came about as a way of solving ceratin problems I encountered with the painting process and its two-dimesnional plane. Over time, the sculpures began to influence the paintings to the point where, now, the relationship between the two is a continuous cycle.'

Sadly, while the single adaptable shown in 'Primavera' did give an inkling of this relationship between the paintings and the sculptural works, it didn't give me the experience I wanted after reading the interview.

Partly it was the presentation: a video showing the adaptable in various forms should have been dropped in favour of including more works; it made as little sense as one painting and a screen with digital examples of more. Partly it was that the form chosen for the adaptable on show seemed to be one of the less adventurous positions it could take on, as demonstrated in the video. And - admittedly - the work featured a certain shade of salmon-pink that I find very off-putting.

On the upside, one of the best things about the visit was an exhibition upstairs that brought together a range of works acquired by the MCA from Primavera's of the past. Acquisitions shows can be higgledy-piggledy and disjointed, but this one not only brought together some real gems, but also gave context to the exhibition downstairs, showing how Primavera has grown alongside the artists it has featured.

Images, from top
Gemma Smith Untitled #1 2008. Acrylic on board.
Gemma Smith Adaptable (lemon/turquoise) 2006.
Gemma Smith, installation view of 2006 exhibition at Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
All images from the Sarah Cottier Gallery website.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful paintings. They feel a bit like Tomma Abts, but the scale makes them more compelling. Hard to get work like this right without appearing overly earnest (or getting to close to a modernist endevour?) but she does it well- they're very considered but not to the point of just being academic. Not as sold on the constructions- numerous painters do this painting as marquette thing and fall short(did Matthew Browne just have a show like this?) Hopefully I'll get to see some work in flesh sometime soon and be able to pass a better judgment.


Anonymous said...

crisp, buoyant?
oh God, please....

Courtney Johnston said...

Thanks Andre. I've been following Smith's work in reproduction for a while now, and was surprised to find I liked the paintings more and the constructions less than I expected.

And Anon - I have HEAPS more describing words. Just wait until I pull out "crunchy", "droopy" and "burnished". You're gonna love it!!