Early Rose, 1979 signed and dated 'John Firth-Smith / 79' verso oil on canvas 91.5 x 91.5cm (36 x 36in).
PROVENANCE: Purchased from 312 Lennox Street Gallery, Melbourne in February 1985
The 1970s was the decade in which Australia's ambivalent relationship with abstraction ended, and John Firth Smith was a central figure to the change in its reception. The architecture of painting, of abstraction in particular, is always central to his work. In the early seventies his paintings were large rectangles of flat colour, with compositional elements pushed to the edge; very much in keeping with what he saw in New York at the time. The surface was often intersected with a diagonal bar; as the artist said in an interview with James Gleeson in 1979, "One of the interesting things about diagonal, that line in some of them, is that it's the longest element you can put into a painting ... it a structural sort of thing which interests me ..."
By the late 70s his works became more uniformly painterly, and his pictorial architecture more diverse with grand horizontals, arcs and other shapes which reference a natural world; they evoke visual sensations of moods, effects observed and shards and vignettes of his Sydney coastal, harbour environment. In Early Rose we find all these elements at their most expressive, an approach to painting which has kept Firth Smith as one of Australia most enduring lyrical abstractionists.