Art Reviews

REVIEW: Helen Smith

Review By: Hannah Lawrance


After the Abdullah brothers’ exhibition – the first instalment of WA Focus at AGWA – controversy was on everybody’s lips. Abdul and Abdul-Rahman provided Perth with exactly what art was meant to do: shock you, thrill you, and move you. That they did. And so did Helen Smith’s. But in a less obvious way.

The small room displaying Helen’s artworks was overcrowded with post-work handbags, glasses of champagne, and people trying to observe and deconstruct the art. It was opening night, so everyone was eager to see what was on offer. Photographs hung adjacent to paintings, and paintings had no other purpose than to catch your eye. It was organised chaos, and it was beautiful.

When you first walk in, your eyes are caught by copious amounts of swirling colour canvasses that creates an optical illusion of movement. It literally looks like the paintings are moving. Each painting is perfectly placed to draw attention from one image, to the next, to the next, as your eyes (and brain) are mesmerised by the movement and colour.

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You are then drawn to a set of three photographs entitled Collingwood vs St Kilda where more movement is evident, but portrayed in a different way. These photographs identifies that slow shutter speed has been used to capture motion.

My favourite collection is a series of about six images in small frames that sit side-by-side one another entitled Reunification Series Berlin. Story be told, Helen would scour through boxes of old photographs piled on top of each other at the local flea markets in Berlin. At the time, she was considering the way the Berlin wall had come down in 1989. And so, metaphorically and literally, placing two halves of images together to create one final product seemed commonsensical to her. It made me stare, it made me think, and it gave me goosebumps.

Consistency isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I think of Helen’s exhibition. While all artwork selections comprised of colour, movement and prosperity, consistency was subtle and at times nonexistent. But inconsistency isn’t negative. Inconsistency means exploration, and unsettlement. It is unique and individualistic, which is a credit to the artist. Perth is lucky to have someone like Helen in the arts community who challenges ‘normal’ notions of art, and exhibition style.

At the Art Gallery of WA from August 15 – October 18.