Peter Smets

In The Shadow

June 26 to July 10 2021

Peter Smets' new body of work revisits the construction activities that now define his oeuvre. ‘Construction sites have always intrigued me,' he imparts. ‘One day there is nothing and the next a large building!' The Gold Coast-based artist tells that what happens during the various stages of construction is fascinating and provides copious inspiration. Enclosed behind high barriers, the men and machinery that raise a building from rubble metaphorically exist ‘in the shadow'. For Smets however, they are the ‘making of works of art in themselves' and worthy of ‘spotlight' exposure.

A meticulous technician, Smets' gives us representational forms in naturalistic space. Beyond mere imitation of appearance, his superbly crafted paintings also manifest a quest for consummate composition and geometric purity. Significant, observed facts are presented as aesthetic phenomena in a palette that is essentially one of primary colours. The predominantly blue tones are vibrantly contrasted with constrained areas of red and yellow. Diminutive depictions of workmen bestow a human dimension and provide narrative context but ultimately, each painting is a vehicle for the expression of abstract principles.

The painting Reflection presents as a dynamic equilibrium of angular shapes and oblique trajectories. Smets' mastery of perspective and his rendition of the reflective properties of glass are astounding, yet even so, design energies depose the subject. Similar geometric considerations are again at play in the Lift You Up work where multiple cherry pickers extend out to the heavens. Massive, vertical blocks of almost featureless, flat oil pigment rise from the narrow foregrounds in the Earthmoving and Excavation paintings. The ‘columns' of cloudless blue sky and building appear undifferentiated apart from a couple of small light fittings embedded in the walls. These, together with yellow or red strategic colour placements, create subtle optical alignments. A gigantic red hook and its chain dangles midair from an unspecified source in the High picture. The painting is aptly titled! The hook's overt central placement and metallic substance is artfully counterbalanced by the mindful positioning of soft, billowing clouds.

Smets' concern for spatial relationships is also exemplified in the painting Conversation, the only one without a machine. Its imagery is that of discarded cable reels in a vast wasteland. These objects had once carried the electrical wires necessary for any construction enterprise. Although of symbolic relevance, Smets has designed them to produce specific visual responses. A semi-circular portion of an enormous upright reel dominates the foreground. Its shadow and the grouping of other reels leads the eye out towards two tiny figures engaged in conversation. Further directional prompting occurs from the warm-hued label on the dominant reel to the men's red shirts. Overhead in the blue expanse, a scattering of little clouds fulfils compositional resolution.

The men and the tools involved in the construction industry may well be ‘in the shadow' but Smet's art most certainly isn't. He has been a multiple-time finalist in numerous prestigious prizes including: Wynne Landscape Prize, AGNSW; Sulman Art Prize, AGNSW; Salon Des Refuses; Tattersall's Club Landscape Art Prize; Paddington Art Prize, Sydney NSW; Mosman Art Prize, NSW; Prometheus Visual Art Award; Doug Moran National Portrait Prize; Stan and Maureen Duke Prize, GCCG; Conrad Jupiter Art Award, GCCG. His works have been collected by the Tweed River Regional Gallery, NSW; Gold Coast City Gallery, Queensland; Zurich Insurance, Sydney; Fairfax Collection; Qanstruct Collection, Tullamarine Airport Melbourne; Ministerie van LNV, Maastricht, the Netherlands; Gemeente Heerlen, Heerlen, the Netherlands; Nanao-shi Ishikawa, Osaka, Japan and various private collections in Germany, Switzerland, UK, USA and Mexico.

JACQUELINE HOUGHTON


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