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Gemma Smith

Adaptable (mint/golden green)  2008

sythetic polymer paint on aircraft plywood, polyester

installed dimensions variable

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

2009.19

About the Artwork

Gemma Smith’s Adaptables are dynamic interactive sculptures made from painted, hinged plywood that can be twisted and manipulated into infinite geometric and colour combinations. The Adaptables display the artist’s fascination with the shifting, sculptural possibilities of colour, which she had been pursuing in geometric paintings that juxtaposed bold linear patterns with vibrant colour combinations.

Each Adaptable consists 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. They continue Smith’s investigation of the interaction of colour, space and geometry through their three-dimensional re-arrangement of planes. 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, setting in motion a play of contrasts, between solid and void, dark and light.
Updated and approved August 2016.

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.
Gemma Smith n.d.

Gemma Smith

– About the artist

Born 1978, Sydney. Lives and works Sydney.


Gemma Smith’s work takes the form of both painting and sculpture. Through her explorations of colour theory, pictorial depth and sculptural form, Smith has developed a body of abstract work that both playfully and seriously investigates the shifting pictorial plane. Her early work was based on abstract paintings of crystalline forms exploring geometric and spatial possibilities in jewel-like colours. She explored these forms three-dimensionally in her Adaptables sculptures. Recent paintings have departed from precise geometries and exact their complex colour-play from a combination of spontaneous painterly gesture and hard-edge colour-blocking that tangle and weave together to create intriguing spatial incongruities.

Smith’s work has been included in a number of exhibitions, including the solo exhibitions Weight and Waver, Milani Gallery, Brisbane (2015); PA Paintings, Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney (2013); Gemma Smith, Turner Gallery, Perth (2010); Collision and Improvisation, Milani Gallery, Brisbane (2010); and Entanglement Factor, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Selected group exhibitions include Quartnerary, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane (2015); Pittsburgh Biennial, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh (2014); AfterPrima PostVera, Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney (2013); Lightness & Gravity: Contemporary Works from the Collection, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2012); Case Study — Gemma Smith Considers the Work of Margo Lewers, Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest, Penrith, Sydney (2011); Cubism & Australian Art, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2009); Gemma Smith — Entanglement Factor, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne (2009); Primavera, MCA, Sydney (2008); and Contemporary Australia: OPTIMISM, Queensland Art Gallery | Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (2008).

Smith’s public artworks include Ceiling Artwork at the Supreme Court and District Court, Brisbane (2011–12) and Synchro, Adaptable (Red Oxide/Peach) at Brisbane Airport (2010). Her works are held in a number of collections including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; Deakin University, Melbourne; and Murdoch University, Perth.

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