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A Celebrated Abstract Artist Shares Her ‘Rhythm Sequence’

Art

Critically-acclaimed abstract painter Gemma Smith is currently exhibiting Rhythm Sequence in Sydney.

The captivating show follows the development of her practice since it began in 1999, offering unprecedented insight into her unique ‘language of painting’.

21st March, 2019

Gemma Smith artwork from her current survey exhibition Rhythm Sequence. Chessboard Painting. Photos – courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery.

Artworks (left) Furill and (right) Goldens. Photos – courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery.

The artist in her Sydney studio. Photo – Anna Kucera, and courtesy of Sarah Cottier Gallery.

Artworks (left) Flow, and (right) Crushing. Photos – courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery.

According to the artist, there have been some surprising and interesting juxtapositions amongst the exhibition. Photos – courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery.

Artworks (left) The Wheel Has Turned and (right) Untitled. Photos – courtesy of the artist, and Sarah Cottier Gallery.

Studio details. Photo – Anna Kucera, courtesy Sarah Cottier Gallery.

‘It’s an absolute privilege to be able to make a survey show at this point in my career,’ tells Gemma. Photo – Anna Kucera, courtesy Sarah Cottier Gallery.

Elle Murrell
Thursday 21st March 2019

‘Making paintings in the studio is a personal and time-consuming process… Sometimes it feels like being two people at once.’ – Gemma Smith.

The first career survey exhibition of work by celebrated abstract artist Gemma Smith is currently on at University of New South Wales Galleries. The Sydneysider studied in Sydney in the late 90s, before venturing to Brisbane and then New York, where she undertook a colour theory course at the famed Parsons School of Design.

Having since featured in more than 100 exhibitions and installed a host of unforgettable, large-scale public works across iconic Australian institutions, Gemma’s survey makes for a staggeringly rich viewing!

Rhythm Sequence’ includes more than 50 works, spanning from early paintings depicting crystalline forms and geometric compositions on chessboards, to Gemma’s most recent works in which colour is barely perceptible. There are her sculptural ‘boulders’ and ‘adaptables’ where colours are reconfigured and interact alongside more hard edge and gestural works, which explore the blocking, translucency and opacity of paints.

In all its wonderful diversity, the exhibition is sequenced to emphasise Gemma’s enduring interest in the act of painting itself, ‘with the arrangement of small boards and large canvases reflecting the physicality and the intimacy of studio work,’ the artist explains.

She took time to take us through the show and share more…

We showcased a home featuring your artwork a little earlier this year. What have you been focussing on recently?

The artworks featured in Mardi Ola’s house are from 2009 and are very important to me as they were part of a seminal moment of change in my practice.

Since then, I’ve been working with the idea of using what I call the ‘Found Ground’ – the gestural underlayer, as a basis for the composition of my paintings.

Your exhibition ‘Rhythm Sequence’ opened earlier this month, can you tell us how this show came about?

I was invited by the director of UNSW Galleries, José Da Silva, to make a survey show looking at the last 17 years of my career.

Together we assembled a checklist of my works to loan from various collectors, museums and galleries around Australia to include representations from most areas of my work.

It’s an absolute privilege to be able to make a survey show at this point in my career.

What has been the highlight of bringing this show together so far?

Given that the work was made at different time periods and for separate exhibitions, it hasn’t been seen together before. And the show also includes numerous large-scale paintings that have never been seen in Sydney previously. There have been some surprising and interesting juxtapositions amongst the exhibition.

It’s been a really terrific opportunity to reflect on my practice as a whole.

The exhibition celebrates your ‘iconic reworking of abstract codes and styles, as well as the testing of colour and form’. Can you give us a little more insight into your approach?

I tend to think of my process as an open-ended one, I am working with the language of painting, colour and abstraction – thinking about new ways to approach abstract painting rather than reworking existing styles.

The show is ‘sequenced to emphasise an enduring interest in the act of painting itself’. What is this like to experience?

The exhibition has not been hung in chronological order, but rather with various interactions of the work in mind.

There is a cyclic nature to the formation of the artwork – where ideas have presented and then resurfaced years later. These moments can be seen in the show.

Having created art across several decades, what have you found to be the most challenging aspect of your practice?

Making paintings in the studio is a personal and time-consuming process. This can be at odds with the public side of exhibiting work. Sometimes it feels like being two people at once.

What inspires you most?

I like to challenge myself by making things difficult and creating problems to solve within my paintings.

And then quarantined studio time is so important. My happiest studio moments are when I’m lost in the process of making and I’m not thinking about the outcome of the work.

What’s next for you?

This show will tour up to The Queensland University of Technology Art Museum in Brisbane in August.

I’m also currently making work to include in Silver Jubilee, celebrating 25 years of Sarah Cottier Gallery, opening on May 2nd.

While Triple Tangle, my 15-metre-long foyer wall commission unveiled in September 2018 continues to be on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

Rhythm Sequence by Gemma Smith 
Until June 1st
UNSW Galleries 
Corner of Oxford Street and Greens Road
Paddington, New South Wales

Gemma Smith is represented by Sarah Cottier Gallery.

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