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Gemma Smith

Adaptable (dark peach/red oxide)  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

2009.18

About the Artwork

Gemma Smith’s 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. 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.

Smith uses colour, cast light and shadows upon connected but shifting planes or surfaces in space to explore notions of mass, depth and dimension 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.

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. Transposing these concerns into three dimensional space, I arrived at a kind of adaptable, sculptural painting.

Gemma Smith, 2009

VIDEO: Gemma Smith discusses Adaptable (dark peach/red oxide)

See how adaptable Gemma Smith’s Adaptables really are in this interview filmed in 2009. Find out about the process of experimentation that led her to choose aircraft plywood as the canvas for these malleable works.

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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