Menzies Art Brands



laying out journeys for the eye to wander over the canvas, [Firth-Smith] launched into a nautical mode in the mid-1980s when, instead of taking a line for a walk as Paul Klee recommended, he set sail over liquid surfaces. These works began to feature conspicuous puns on the idea of medium. Viewers were made aware that the phenomena are only visible in and through a medium the medium of atmosphere (parallel vertical bars signifying rain), or a code (parallel horizontal bars alluding to a TV screen).

The ellipses he adopted in the latter part of the 1980s are his most versatile motifs to date. An ellipse is an inherently ambiguous form: it can be read as a shape seen head-on or, as a circle titled in perspective. Tipped vertically, it suggests the opening of a tube, the lens of a telescope, the frame of a cheval mirror, the sound hole of a guitar or the body of a banjo. Horizontally, it looks like a ripple left by an object submerged under water, a halo, or the arc of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, completed by its reflection in the water the Harbour Bridge is a landmark in the view from the terrace of Firth-Smiths home in Lavender Bay.

His current works have taken aboard some curious curvilinear motifs, accentuating the fact that Firth-Smith is no less virtuosic in his modulation of line than in his modulation of plane. Some of his curves evidently relate to a nineteenth century bentwood rocking chair and chaise lounge in the artists studio which are in effect, cubist sculptures in their own right. Other curves seem to hark back to his 1980s New York paintings, or they may resemble a flourishing plant in a doorway or a tangle of electric wiringthe range of allusions multiplies apace1

1. Maloon, T., introduction in exhibition catalogue, John Firth-Smith, Roslyn Olxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 3 20 October 1990


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