The art of Tony Smibert

Born in 1949, Smibert studied at the National Gallery School where his training consisted of life drawings, drawing from casts and the study of anatomy, all within the 19th century studios earlier frequented by artists including Streeton, Roberts and McCubbin.

‘The drawing regime was terrific, it taught me the value of learning from the masters and probably led me to the later study of JMW Turner’s techniques, which is so important to how I now work.' Smibert said.

Inspired by the skill of 19th century English watercolourist JMW Turner and eastern painting traditions, Tony Smibert is well-known for his ability to create compelling abstract landscapes.

Tao Sublime Tony Smibert Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

A selection of brushes from Smibert's Tasmanian studio. Image: QVMAG

Refining his craft across a 40-year career, Smibert’s work prompts visitors to reflect on the transformative power of nature.

‘My interest in landscape arose from studying historic watercolour technique – that’s what they painted – and was stimulated by my study of Aikido, time spent in Japan, and a passion for the magic of what watercolour can do. This came on me with the sort of rush you might experience when swept up in a love affair and left me tremendously excited by landscape.

‘The way I use acrylic comes directly from a way of working taught by an 18th-century drawing master, Alexander Cozens. He proposed that artists commence with abstract or semi abstract markings, which he called ‘blots’, and within these patterns, find landscapes. 

'This was a radical idea in his time, and profoundly influenced Turner and others painted in watercolour – leading to an entirely new and creative way of working within an era otherwise known for careful drawing washed in with colour and tone.’

Tao Sublime Tony Smibert Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

Tasmanian artist Tony Smibert holding a watercolour painting in his studio. Image: QVMAG

Tao Sublime will lead you to uncover the diverse acrylic creations of Smibert, many of which have been revealed to the public for the first time from within the artist’s personal studio collection.

‘The big acrylics [featured in Tao Sublime] are a product of the last 10 – 15 years.

‘While painting and exhibiting watercolours in public, I was privately working in acrylic wash, painting for myself, with no particular idea to exhibit; and the result to date is a shed full of paintings some of which are in this exhibition.

‘My acrylic method involves all kinds of tools and brushes, buckets of water, hosing and generally flicking paint around. 

‘It makes use of the marks that paint itself makes – just as Pollock did but in a very different way.’

Tao Sublime Tony Smibert Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

Tasmanian artist Tony Smibert in his studio. Image: QVMAG

With each work evolving into a unique interpretation of the sublime philosophy, Smibert encourages visitors to explore each works up close where the textural details of each work can truly be appreciated.

‘How are the marks made? With lots of paint, giant brushes, lots of energy and a sense of adventure. Nothing is ever fully planned, but they come from optimism and a blank canvas. 

‘Painting this way, every day is a new adventure because, even when disasters occur, many lead to discoveries. 

Tao Sublime Tony Smibert Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

Tasmanian artist Tony Smibert painting in his studio. Image: QVMAG

‘Rather like a musician loves playing – I love the doing of it. Finished paintings are not the point. What matters is the sense of adventure and of journey.

‘It’s great to have a fished art work, but that’s only a side-result compared with the thrill of watching the painting evolve and then immediately start on another.’

Tao Sublime is now showing at the Art Gallery at Royal Park.