"Firth-Smith's paintings seek to capture a moment when our finite and earthly perceptions of the world give way to intimations of the infinite. Grounded in simple observations of the harbour, the rusty hull of a ship, or the ripples in a pool of water, they point towards a higher form of vision which can only be suggested visually, not verbalised exhaustively.
These works transform the stuff of experience so as to invoke a higher reality beyond that of sensory perception. They are, one might suggest, secular invocations of spiritual experienceIt is this gesture towards the absolute, this attempt to extrapolate an overarching significance from partial material sources, that lends Firth-Smith's paintings so much power." (John Mc Donald, 'Visions of the infinite', Sydney Morning Herald, 17 September 1988).
"In 1986, Firth-Smith completed a major work of the period, Returning on Time. The entire work has an internal unity, or gestalt, that strikes the viewer at first glance. On the surface, the canvas exudes the texture and reflective qualities found on a breezy night in Sydney Harbour. The inky black surface contains evidence of the multi-layering of pigment applied with brush and knife at varying velocity and pressure, then re-worked with a rubber comb and fingers. The elliptical form, or 'vessel', on the right hand has 'weathered' the (painterly) process, while the freshly painted ellipse to the left appears poised for departure. The horizontal bar of mainly white pigment, with hints of blue-green and red oxide, hovers like an illuminated headland.
Returning on Time was displayed, along with returning Dream, 1986, in the exhibition 'A Resistant Spirit', curated by William Wright for Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Realities Gallery, Melbourne, in 1986. Firth-Smith's co-exhibitors were David Aspden, Lesley Dumbrell, Denise Green, Robert jacks, Michael Johnson and Paul Partos. Wright's selection criterion was based on the artists' resistance to the ideological temptations of the 1970s-80s." (Gavin Wilson, John Firth-Smith: A Voyage That Never Ends, Craftsman House, 2000, p128)