Colour is simultaneously the most apparent and most complex part of Gemma Smith’s practice. The artist, who has a penchant for abstraction, creates paintings that capture dialogues and interactions between colours. Smith doesn’t paint withcolour; she persuades colour. In Art Guide’s latest podcast she discusses her explorations into colour and form, and how these forays are captured in her first major survey exhibition Rhythm Sequence.
Currently showing at QUT Art Museum, Rhythm Sequence brings together Smith’s paintings and sculptural pieces from 2003 onwards, chronicling how the artist explores what she calls “the language of painting.” Yet, as Smith explains in the podcast, there was an initial apprehension to seeing her artworks brought together. “All of these works were made at different times throughout a 17-year period and they have never really met before,” she says. This initial worry soon eased into joy for Smith: “It was surprising to see them in relation to each other.”
While the artist’s work has affiliations within modernist abstraction, colour is the true talking point of her practice. “I’m mostly interested in colour and its interactions,” she explains. “It’s sort of become the content of my work in a way. I feel like there’s just so many possibilities for it.” Smith came to prominence with her use of colour and form in her early geometric paintings and the Adaptables sculpture series. Recently she’s moved into more gestural works, forgoing rigid lines and opting for a more muted palette.
While Smith has likened her experiments with colour to “game playing”, this is less a conceptual move and instead stems from hours in the studio. “I was told fairly early on in my practice that the only way to really learn colour was to use it and to practice, and I totally believe that,” she says. “It’s definitely a heightened understanding I’ve come to through the process of experimenting.”
Even though Smith is a self-declared meticulous painter, there is a highly intuitive process to her practice. As she says, “I think I’m always trying to allow for some level of chance or mistake to play off as well.” Smith’s formalist tendencies work in tandem with a more irrational, gestural and pleasurable approach to painting.
In the podcast Smith talks through her process in the studio, as well as discussing the artists who have influenced her. And finally, she tells us what she has learnt about painting from almost two decades of explorations into colour, space and form.