Ce blog est alimenté par Jacques Lefebvre-Linetzky. Commentaires et retours bienvenus.

jeudi 12 août 2021


We need to talk about that thing, collage
© David Smith

Why does a particular painting or drawing appeal to us ? Why do we always seek the company of our favourite artists? We feel reassured, no doubt. But there is more to it than meets the eye. These works of art surely represent something intimate that the artist shares with us. Eventually, it is not what we actually see that reaches to our soul, its is what we do not see. Here is the mystery that feeds our imagination and awakens our sensitivity. 

I enjoy keeping my eyes open on the invisible and this enables me to feel at home in the worlds of Turner and Klee, in those of  Hammershøi and Freundlich or in those of Poussin and Bacon, to name but a few of the artists I truly worship.  

As you have undoubtedly noticed, I like to experience new vibrations in order to nourish my "inner museum". I will therefore invite you to embark with me on a voyage into the world of an astounding artist I have recently discovered. His name is David Smith ; he lives and works in Dorset. 

David Smith
© David Smith

Abstract, minimalist and repetitive

Eight disks
© David Smith

He describes his work as "abstract, often minimalist and repetitive". That his work should be abstract and repetitive is quite obvious. The minimalist aspect of his work is more difficult to define. David Smith calls it a "tricky term". He uses it "to explain that he is trying to use simple forms and compositions to express a restricted choice of emotional and intellectual content."

To put in even simpler terms, one could quote Mies Van der Rohe when he asserts that "less is more". I would be tempted to add with a wink that "small is beautiful". 

The diffuse longings of destiny
© David Smith

Indeed, there is something utterly magical about David Smith's paintings and drawings. His quest for purity is constant. His gesture is under tight control and yet spontaneous. It is likely that such an osmosis makes it possible for some subtle pulsations to actually emerge to the surface. Furthermore, the repetition of shapes and patterns endows his work with a most specific musicality. As for me, I enjoy admiring David Smith's production while listening to the syncopated rhythms of Erroll Garner or to Keith Jarrett's sublime improvisations. 

David Smith does not seek to convey a particular message or, if he does, it is never obvious. He lures us into the secret music of his art and that is, in itself, a blessing as one immediately reaches the intimacy of his work. Hence, one experiences a feeling of plenitude which affects the way we approach his paintings and drawings. 

David Smith is a generous artist, somewhat obsessional (who said it was a flaw?) . He enjoys sharing his work. His posts on Instagram testify to his basic intention. Drawing is then perceived as a daily jubilation which, nonetheless exudes a form of density. His drawings can be feverish as if the artist wished to lead us into the secret of the creative gesture. 

Two blacks don't make a white
© David Smith

A virtual interview

David Smith was kind enough to answer a series of questions I sent him.  

When did you realise you wanted to become an artist ?

Hard question! In a way, it was inevitable that I would seek some form of creative outlet. As a child I was good at drawing. I especially loved to draw the natural worlds : trees, fungi, flowers and birds especially. I think I really wanted to be a naturalist, but my mother wouldn't let me bring my collections of dead, or alive, creatures into the house, so I drew them instead. By the time I was ten years old I had cuttings of pictures by Oskar Kokoschka, Cézanne and Van Gogh on my bedroom wall among the exploded diagrams of railway engines, architectural drawings and photographs of wildlife. That year, my parents took me on holiday to Austria and Germany. I said I would go if we could visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna! My interest and love for art continued to grow through school and I wanted to learn more, but the idea of becoming an artist as career, or a persona for me to inhabit, wasn't something I entertained. I think I chose to go to art school to keep my options open and to get an education rather than a preparation for a career. There were few places that could offer so many skills that might come in handy if you didn't make it as an artist - typography, photography, welding, woodwork, painting, printing, casting, stonework, plastering, researching, and writing. The British educational system at that time assumed you would not become a full-time artist straightaway, if ever. And I guess I bought in to that idea. So , although I used the skills I learned at college in my career, it took more than 30 years to realise that what I really wanted to be was an artist. 

Where did you study art ? 

I was extremely fortunate to do a two-year Foundation Art course at Colchester School of art, where artists such as Tim Holding, John Carter, Philip Ardizone, Richard Bawden, Michael Buhler, Hugh Cronyn, Richard Pinkney and others influenced the direction of my life as well as my art. There was a strong focus on drawing and techniques. In the second year, I focused almost exclusively on sculpture. My degree course was three years of sculpture and printmaking at Kingston - where David Nash was a visiting lecturer. 

Sculpture by David Nash
copyrights : galerie Lelong

Were you immediately attracted to abstract art ?

Yes, I believe I was. At first, it was "abstraction", but my early interest in sculpture (in particular, my namesake, the American sculptor, David Smith) and in modernist architecture, made it easy to find beauty, emotion and intellectual stimulation in the purely abstract. 

Zig I, 1961
© The estate of David Smith

Who are your favourite abstract artists ? 

This could be the hardest of these questions for me to answer. Even though it is just one category of visual art, there are so many ways I want to explore the answers. If you asked me my favourite food, my answer would be different according to the season, time of day, how hungry I was, what my body craved, and what I had been eating recently or missing. The same could be said of art. There is abstract art that I love for its beauty alone. There is work that I admire for its intellectual challenge. There is work that I am just discovering or rediscovering, so spending lots of time with. Art that is new and innovative. Art that is important and influential, intriguing, disruptive, subversive, skillful, clever. Which of these qualities go towards making an artist a favourite ?
There is an outright winner who, for me, encompasses most of the qualities in my list most of the time, and that is Richard Serra. His drawings in particular are objects of pure delight to me, and I cannot think of any work of his I have seen and experienced that has not moved and engaged me. A close second would be David Nash, whose sincerity and humanity shines through his work. Richard Long, Mira Schendel, Rachel Whiteread, Cornelia Parker, Agnes Martin, and Roger Ackling are all usually a safe bet to please me. 

What stimulates you visually ? 

My visual systems are perpetually overstimulated : I am easily distracted, and my attention caught by the smallest and oddest of things. In recent years, I have discovered that I am aphantasic, my mind's eye is blind. Well, I have always known it, but now I have a word for it. I just thought I was rubbish at visualizing ! Of course, my brain and eyes still take in all the data : it just gets processed differently. In my case it seems to have a lot more processing in my conscious mind, which means I notice things a lot. I have begun to realise that I've always had symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), including the easy distraction and its opposite, hyperfocus. So, I am continually caught by feathers suspended on gossamer threads ; a dead bee nestled in the coil of a cucumber tendril ; tiny strips of shredded polaroids that survive years in the compost heap ; faint reflections or shadows ; the trail of snails. Yes, my brain and heart love landscape, nature, geology, art, architecture, people and their produce, and I could and do explain my work in relation to these things, but if I am really honest, my work is really about delighting in small things I see, trying to distill the essence of that delight, and wondering if anyone else might delight in it too. 
I believe life today is increasingly ruled by the "attention economy". Every moment, we are bombarded by information, advertising, entertainment, podcasts, news, social media, demands to work. We are visually and mentally overstimulated to an unhealthy degree. I increasingly find myself wanting to create work that is visually calming, and which encourages the brain to make a little space to push back against the coercive deluge of our attention-grabbing culture. 

What is a minimalist artist ? 

Lines where once I danced
© David Smith

I am not sure I really know. I sometimes wonder if all these art terms are helpful. I do describe my work as "abstract, often minimalist and repetitive", and I suppose that "minimalist" is the tricky word there. I use the term to explain that I am trying to use simple forms and compositions to express a restricted choice of emotional and intellectual content. It's pared back, usually without narrative, often restrained, and mostly devoid of unnecessary decoration. My aim is to allow the viewer space to place their attention on the work rather than trying to grab their attention. 

Could you explain what you had in mind while preparing #Letter 365 ? Was it only a game or was there more to it than just a repetitive pattern ? 

# Letter 365 poster background
© David Smith

There were certainly many playful elements to the project, but there was only rudimentary repetition. Like the ripple pattern left in the sand by each day's tides, they appear to be repetitive, and they are indeed similar, yet each one is unique. 

#Letter 365 started as a crazy proposal to secure an exhibition in the Allsop Gallery to follow up from my first year-long serial art project, #Collage 365. It was a phenomenal experience for me. I used only a small portion of the ideas I originally generated, but it took on an autonomic growth of its own : almost every day threw up connections and coincidences that astonished me. 

My love of the unseen, the hidden, the yet-to-be-manifest, the secret-never-to-be-told, coupled with my interest, at that time, in the interplay between chaos and order, conspired with the opportunity to make the largest grid-based work I could wish for. I had never seen anything like it nor have I since. I still haven't catalogued all the different aspects of what I was hoping to do, it was so complex yet very simple. 

© David Smith

The basic idea was to create an artwork from scratch every day for a year. Each artwork was to be sealed in an envelope and sent to the gallery, where they would be displayed, unopened, in a sealed Perspex box in the foyer. My rule was that every envelope would be out of my hands before midnight each day. Each day's piece could be bought at any time, but none would be opened until the installation in the gallery. Buyers would have no idea of the contents of the envelopes ; they would be buying blind, sight unseen. Only pieces that had been sold would be opened and any pieces unsold at the end of the show would be publicly destroyed without opening. Envelopes were opened at a public event each week. Visually, from the outset, the intention was to create a regular grid of envelopes on the gallery walls that would evolve and become distorted and augmented by each week's opening of sold items. The whole story of the project's unfolding can be found here

© David Smith

What is distributed art ? 

I use the term "distributed art" to describe my time-based projects because lots of people can own their own piece and have a share in the larger artwork that no one person can ever own and nobody will ever see in its entirety. I hope that each day's individual piece has some artistic merit, but what I am doing is not creating 365 pieces of work, I am creating one piece of work in 365 parts.  You could call it a performance piece that lasts a year and leaves a daily trace. People can buy these daily traces and, in doing so, gain a connection to the whole piece and become a part of that performance. Each day's piece is priced a level that almost everybody could easily afford to pay, so I feel it is democratic art. For me, it is a political statement. It is the complete opposite to the commodification of art, where only the richest can afford to buy and the work sits in a bank vault. Ironically, high value art is increasingly bought by investment syndicates, meaning no single person owns that either. 

What fascinates you about asemic writing ? 

The Instruction of prophesy
© David Smith

I have always been intrigued by signs, symbols and sigils. Doesn't every child have a secret language ? I love typography, diagrams, Islamic decoration, maps and so forth. During # Collage 365 I sometimes needed some greyscale texture that printed media would normally supply, but, at that time, I never bought newspapers and magazines, thus I ended up creating grids of wingdings to fill my need. So, when I began making art in grids it seemed natural to slip in shapes and forms that looked a little like text. Asemic text is another example of concealment : is there a hidden meaning there ? Because the eye and the brain cannot easily categorise these marks they aren't so easily dismissed : we are encouraged to place more attention on them because we don't know what they are. When I began using asemic text I didn't even have  a name for it ! Gradually, I have discovered a wealth of other artists who have it as part of their practice, notably Léon Ferrari, Mira Schendel and, taking the idea to the extreme, Xu Bing. 

Do you need to impose upon yourself the constraint of a theme, as in "Black Squares, Black Lines & Black Magic" ? 

Black squares
© David Smith

From my first-every-day-for-a-year project, # Letter 365, I learned the value of daily discipline. I quickly realised in that project, that it was helpful to have the constraint of a single format. Most of us tend to explore themes in our practice, and for me those themes can lead me to follow threads of ideas on a whim, making it harder to go deep into an idea. When I was asked to show at the Round Tower Gallery, Black Swan Arts, I saw an opportunity for me to focus on two separate themes in my work and bring them together in a new body of work. Once I had committed to it, the ideas and energy just flowed, as did the support and generosity of others and a phenomenal number of serendipitous occurrences. So, in this case, the constraint was in order to focus on a coherent body of work for an exhibition, and it did teach me that it is helpful for me to apply self-imposed rules to work within. It helps me develop greater critical awareness and helps me manage my tendency to distraction. So, it's not a need but it's very helpful and adds to my enjoyment and satisfaction too.

Why do you resort to erasing techniques ? 

This where the party ends
© David Smith

I live on the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The coast is a place where deep time meets fleeing time : geological time is overlapped by tide time. The coast here is continually eroding. Cliffs that were formed over millions of years shed hundreds of tons of rock in seconds and it takes surprisingly few tides to remove nearly all trace of each fall, maybe leaving just a fossil or two. It takes surprisingly few passes with an eraser to remove nearly all trace of a drawing that took hours to create. 

© Visit Dorset 

It seems that everything leaves some marks of its history. The Dorset landscape, here, is rich in megalithic remains and I am fascinated how we can read the trace of all that has passed over and through it. Fossils, field patterns, stone circles, tumuli, crop marks, tracks, boundaries are indicators of a layered record that is never completely obliterated. In the same way, the smudged and inscribed surface of the paper tells the forensic story of my drawings. 

Does working on larger formats change your approach ?

Yes, I believe that scale inevitably influences the impact of a work and also the approach of the artist. I have often reined in my desire to make larger work. Larger work presents problems of space to make it, transport issues, gallery availability, storage and even the cost of the materials. I suppose one way I have approached making larger work is making time-based projects : big ideas broken down into small pieces or small pieces that come together in a large work. 

How essential is music to you ?

A few lines where dinosaurs did a dance
@ David Smith

I start to feel unwell if I don't have access to music. Its is central to my cultural and personal life. I believe it to be a universal language, a unifying force for good that can bring people together across boundaries of ethnicity, culture, politics, age and nationality. I find it helpful to my practice, though I am usually careful to choose music that aids my focus without influencing the work. I rarely listen to music outside, especially in natural environments. I respect all music of high quality, but now that I am getting old, I choose only to play music that deeply affects me and seek out the music that is intellectually and emotionally stimulating. I feel I don't have enough time left to hear all the wonderful music from the world, so don't waste my time on second best and shun nostalgia and mawkishness. Currently, I am mostly listening to modern and contemporary music, usually jazz. I enjoy the mixing of influences from different cultures. 

A few lines where Henri danced the Fandango with Rachel
© David Smith

Has lockdown prevented you from creating ? 

To a degree, it did. During our first lockdown it was questionable if I should be able to access my studio, so I chose to bring materials home and try to work in different ways. I had to cancel a lot of plans for exhibitions and art fairs. The legacy of it is that I am now completely rethinking how I work and access my audience. It is almost as if I have started afresh, which brings a great buoyancy but also fresh challenges. 

Could you say a few words about your latest show ? 

Nigel Dawes
© Pete Milson 2019

It was a joint show with Nigel Dawes, who lives and works near to me. Nigel uses discarded and rediscovered plastic components to construct quirky, humorous, and slightly disturbing sculptural assemblages, or arranges identical but uniquely sea-worn plastic items into beautiful series. Quite a contrast, you might think, to my intimate, mesmeric drawings using repetitive elements that have been erased, redacted, or distorted by chance actions. Yet both of us create work evoking the landscape and suggesting hidden stories. We both frequently impose rules to frame our ideas, while allowing serendipity and coincidence to be a catalyst. Our materials may be quite different, yet we share a pattern language and similar aesthetic. This resulted in an exhibition of minimalist, non-representional art with a conceptual flavour. We thought it was intellectually stimulating, visually intriguing and emotionally calming. Fortunately, our visitors seemed to enthusiastically agree. 

Are you working on a specific project at the moment ? 

Black squares
© David Smith

Right now, I am trying to reorganize my studio to allow for some new ways of working. I am also working on updating and relaunching my website, which is sorely neglected and not up to date. I have amassed a huge number of ideas over the last couple of years. I am in the process of critically reviewing these and trying to be practical and honest about what I really want to do and what is most important in the light of the pandemic and the political issues at play in the world. Coming out of the lockdown, we are entering a new unchartered space for art and artists. In the UK - especially England - funding for the Arts is being cut even further and arts-based content in education at all levels  is being excluded. Culturally, we are facing a lot of challenges here, not least of which is being torn from our friends and kindred in Europe. 
So I have a lot to think about. I do have a project in mind that would be the longest and most ambitious time-based project I have ever done. I am not committed to it yet, and have delayed its start past a date that my self-imposed rule-making would have liked, in order to refine it, rather than rush in rashly. On the other hand, I may just decide to take it easy, tend the garden, and make comforting little pieces for my friends.

August 2021

The Body of Sorrow
© David Smith

My sincere gratitude to David Smith for taking the time to answer these questions and for providing me with so many visuals. 

Should you wish to visit David's website, here is the link


Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire