Murdoch University Art Collection's new abstract work.
Murdoch University Art Collection’s notable holdings of Australian abstract art originated from a small feature of West Coast hard-edged abstract paintings. Over the past 15 years, this feature of the Collection has broadened to represent some of the nation’s most exciting and celebrated artists working within the diverse field of contemporary abstraction.
The Collection’s latest acquisition is a striking painting by Gemma Smith, a Sydney-based painter and sculptor. Smith is widely acknowledged for her rigorous and unique experimentations in colour theory and abstraction. Her artwork has been acquired by various public, corporate, and private collections nationally, and she has received important public art commissions for The Supreme Court of Queensland in Brisbane, Brisbane Airport and a giant, entry statement mural for the arrival staircase at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
Murdoch University Art Curator Mark Stewart recognised the quality of Smith’s work very early in her career, purchasing a suite of four artworks in 2009. These acquisitions included a group of three compact, interrelated untitled paintings that were featured in the Primavera exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, the previous year. The fourth acquisition, a gemstone-like sculpture titled Boulder # 2 created in transparent, multi-coloured acrylic plastic, is a striking example of her earlier exploration of colour, light and geometric abstract forms.
Mark’s latest acquisition, titled Arrow Painting (2021) was featured in Smith’s solo exhibition at Sarah Cottier Gallery in Sydney at the end of last year. In this body of works, Smith’s gestural underpaintings serve as grounds and schema for geometric constellations. Distinguishing between layers in these paintings is problematized by their beguiling transparency – each colour and form a wash of gleaming paint, functioning collectively like illuminated panes of stained glass. It is nearly impossible to decipher a solid fixture in these vibrant orchestrations, so their depth remains exquisitely ambiguous.
As always, Smith’s use of colour is meticulous, potent, and highly knowledgeable. Not one to shy away from complex colour relations, she employs a full spectrum of hues, putting each to work with complements and contrasts. Arrow Painting and the other kaleidoscopic paintings featured in the exhibition were built simultaneously during an extensive NSW lockdown in 2021.
Smith’s skill with colour was enhanced early in her career as an artist through study she undertook at Parsons School of Design in New York in 2005 where they looked extensively at colour theory.
“It was a very practical course and the thing that has stayed with me was when the instructor said, ‘the only way you can really learn colour is to work with it’,” said Gemma. (Artist Profile Magazine, Issue 46, 2019)
Smith remains committed to painting in an abstract mode, though her painting style has become increasingly painterly in comparison to her earlier work. These new works reflect this important shift in her practice and the piece is unquestionably an outstanding addition to the Murdoch University Art Collection’s representation of one of Australia’s most respected, progressive, and collectable contemporary artists.