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Gemma Smith

Adaptable (dark peach/red oxide) 2008

on display

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with assistance of Dr Edward Jackson AM and Mrs Cynthia Jackson AM, 2009

sythetic polymer paint on aircraft plywood, polyester

H 66.5 W 51.6 D 0.3cm

About the Artwork

Gemma Smith’s sculptural works The Adaptables are based on the geometric paintings she was making at the time, breaking them down across a three-dimensional surface. As constructed forms, each piece can be manipulated by hand to reveal different permutations.

The Adaptables consist of two painted plywood planes that have been cut into irregular geometric shapes and held together by an inner layer of fabric that operates as a hinging mechanism along certain edges. In these examples, each Adaptable is binary, with one colour painted on its face, and a different colour painted on its underside – however, even ‘face’ and ‘underside’ are interchangeable because the sculptures can be shifted around, their configuration altered by the position of the viewer. This orchestration of colour is key to the successful functioning of the sculptures: the fact that the two colours are different in hue but close in tone ensures that when manipulated, any selected combination of planes remains harmonious. As each piece is reconfigured, the darker tone recedes and the brighter one comes to the fore … what is set in motion is a play of contrasts, between solid and void, dark and light’.

Smith uses colour, cast light and shadows upon connected but shifting planes or surfaces in space to explore notions of mass, depth and dimension but through subtle manipulations (including the viewer’s participation). While The Adaptables echo the artist’s geometric paintings, these infinitely-operable, small-scale adaptations are user-friendly – their immediacy and accessibility encouraging viewers to fully engage with the artist’s construction process.

Artist Statement

As the paintings developed, I became more and more interested in exploring the possibilities of spatial depth and movement within the two-dimensional surface, increasingly relying on foreshortening… in order to do this. Transposing these concerns into three dimensional space, I arrived at a kind of adaptable, sculptural painting. Interestingly, I find that the seemingly infinite number of possibilities for configuring an Adaptable echoes the endless possibilities for a work on canvas at the moment I start painting it.


Rachel Kent (curator), MCA Collection: New Acquisitions 2009 (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Contemporary Art, 2009; Barbara Flynn, Ewen McDonald (eds), Emerge and Review: A look into the UBS Australian Art Collection, UBS Sydney, 2007, p 120

Quotation: Gemma Smith, Emerge and Review: A look into the UBS Australian Art Collection, UBS Sydney, 2007, p 120

The Adaptables sculptures came about as a way of addressing problems I encountered when working with the flat picture plane.

Gemma Smith, 2007

Gemma Smith

– About the artist


Gemma Smith’s work takes the form of both painting and sculpture. Through her explorations of colour theory, pictorial depth and sculptural form, she has developed a fascinating body of abstract work that both playfully and seriously investigates the shifting pictorial plane.

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– Other works by the artist

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