Sarah Smuts-Kennedy

Joy Field (July 2021), Sunstudio
1150 x 830 mm (left); 1150 x 830 mm (right), 2 panels
pigment pastel on cotton rag
Titled, signed and dated 2021 verso

Estimate: NZD 5,000 — 8,000

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This joyous pigment pastel work is the latest outcome of Sarah Smuts-Kennedy's ongoing investigation into fields of energy, and her process of revealing these fields through art based languages and intuition driven modes of enquiry. Across two panels, marks capture a hum of sustained gestures executed in meditative focus. Various hues fizz as they merge and layer one upon another, building a hypnotic rhythm.

Joy Field (July 2021), Sunstudio is the outcome of a stream of activity begun during Smuts-Kennedy’s 2016 at McCahon House Residency. Immersed in the landscape and November light McCahon referred to as a miracle in the first year he lived there, Smuts-Kennedy continued her practice of re-calibrating energies through attuned art-making. This work demonstrates the artist's dexterous understanding of both lineages of abstract expressionism and the healing potential of art.

Artist Biography & History
with Artspace Aotearoa:


Frequency of the Earth (solo), 18 May ⁠— 8 July 2017

Frequency of the Earth was a solo exhibition by Sarah Smuts-Kennedy exhibited within the framework of Singular Pluralities ∞ Plural Singularities, an initiative established in 2015 that presented multiple solo exhibitions simultaneously in different parts of the gallery. Frequency of the Earth occurred alongside the exhibitions Coconuts That Grew From Concrete by Yuki Kihara and te huka o te tai by Shannon Te Ao.

Sarah Smuts-Kennedy


Sarah Smuts-Kennedy is an Aotearoa New Zealand born and based artist, and an MFA graduate of the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland (2012).

Sarah’s biodynamic, permaculture teaching garden, 45 minutes north of Auckland, functions as a central axis for her research. She was the McCahon House Artist in Residence September – December in 2016. Her works are housed in private and public collections in both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. Recent solo exhibitions include Energy in Quiescence at Sophie Gannon Gallery (2019), Light Language at Te Uru (2017), and Frequency of the Earth at Artspace Aotearoa (2017). Her social sculptural commission For the Love of Bees (2016 – ongoing) has triggered a resurgence of regenerative organic urban farms and community compost hubs across Aotearoa New Zealand. She continues to do visioning, environmental advocacy and educational work for this platform.

An excerpt from Sarah Smuts-Kennedy’s Expanded Field by Natasha Conland
Originally published in 2017 on the occasion of the exhibition Light Language at Te Uru, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Smuts-Kennedy ran with several streams of activity in the studio during her McCahon House residency. One of these was the series of rhythmic drawings made using colour pastels drumming against paper pinned to the wall, executed in an almost meditative state. As she describes it, the colour palette is selected by pendulum, and the almost hypnotic rhythm of the pastel’s application takes precedence over the artist’s conscious decision- making. They are clearly abstracts made in a state of abstraction, yet the ‘high key’, to use Van Gogh’s phrase, and the patternation are heavily reminiscent of the Impressionist’s relationship to the emerging science of colour. However these pastels are twenty-first-century tools and their colour range and capacity reflects the intricate developments in chemical colour, now long divorced from natural dyes and pigments. Yet the activity and integration of colours on the paper is highly active and intuitive. They are perhaps the most seductive of her works to date – why? Colour ... to steal from Michael Taussig who in turn borrows from William Burroughs ... appears to walk off the page. Whatever the mind/hand combination was that made these works, they seemed to know about the blending of light that occurs in certain colour adjacencies.


There can be no doubt that the drawings point us into nature, with or without the remembered history of Pointillism and Impressionism. Their likeness to colour in motion is most certainly of our world, they have wind and weather and seasons even. They move off the page like a living thing and motion towards the window. If there is deceit in this action, it is peaceful and accepting. The world has been wronged, we no longer trust or delight in rainbows, we’re thinking about pollution and pathogens in the atmosphere. Even as children are the last to delight in colourful magic within ancient intensity, they are taught about the ozone hole.

The drawings have been built in rapid development, and rather than essentialise colour relationships they are open to the viewer’s own perceptual movements. In the span of the artist’s practice they are also the most recent in a series of inversions within which she situates her three-pronged hand – art, the healing tool, nature. This time one can’t help feeling what we have in front of us is something like Monet’s cosmic garden represented for us, to stimulate our own need for healing as it did for him at Giverny and for Jarman at Dungeness. However, they are not explicitly ‘in nature’, whilst our relative consciousness may situate us there, these are without doubt representations of the inexplicable. They are allegories of a hopeful state, whether in wo/man or nature. Our responses to them are remote from logic but somehow engage the space between science and art. The colour field depicted comes as close as Smuts-Kennedy has yet to the representation of that unfamiliar space – the field of spiritual energy. Yet what of the white page? Is it enough? My sense is that this artist will keep recasting her pyramid of intentions until she finds the balance of the bodily unconscious which directs her one way or another into art and life on the case of nature. Unlike the modernists she is under no illusion that we can escape the chemical pollution that has now altered our natural world and atmosphere. Instead, through social and formal mechanisms, she proposes that within art we might at least imagine it differently (which in this instance is analogous to imagining the unthinkable) in order to start productively affecting change.