Here is the unusual equation. Second time at the gallery and first time seeing the work of this artist. It would not be a very unusual situation. However, this gem of a space in Chinatown was worth the General Douglas MacArthur promise of “I shall return” because unique art spaces are hard to come by in New York City. Throw in a fresh new artist, well that is just art gravy.
Last January 15th, AF came to the solo exhibition of Erin Smith for To The Moon and Back. Boy, were we happy to ever come back at Amy Li Projects, which is a very special art space that doubles as a button shop. I must say the charm has not worn off as the very edgier slice of art continues to beguile and far from the high glamour glitz of Chelsea, the buttons are opened up more here.
Smith is a young painter from Australia whose range of abstract portraiture to representational scenes of life gave us a real rounded journey to the moon then back here on earth. The figurative aspect superbly shows that Smith has the skills and technique to draw. The slashes and splatter of color forms blurs the actuality to either heighten the paradoxical view or soften the sinister connotations of the subjects.
There is definitely a balance of flights of fancy to the mundane social commentary that Smith negotiates very well in her oeuvre. You have gas-masked men that hearken to Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais “ with its line up and the toxicity gets softened by the brushes of color that may have formed a cloud less likely to kill. An Oscar Mayer Weiner mobile flying off the ground into a fanciful realm where diagonal to it is a bloody piece of meat. The two images are indirectly referenced but you know at the back of your mind, it does. Smith is clever to render clear what needs to be said and obscure what we can imagine ourselves.
Her work is as layered and alluring as the space it’s in. For someone so young, there is a level of maturity that her work does not dumb down the message for its viewer and instead engages one to fill in the rest of the story. Most artists when they’re starting off the gate want everyone to get the agenda they’re pushing. When a work is nuanced in considerable doses that the viewer completes the vision and it is risky for any artist to do that. Smith understands the risks and does not shy off from its glare. I see that as more than the gravitas of youth. It is a move by a secure and truthful artist who can allow the viewers to put their own spin on the work. There is no need to hammer it on the head when you know that you’ve nailed it. Smith definitely nailed it and nailed it good.
I had the luxury of having an in depth discussion with Smith about art in general. She wanted to know what is the New York art world really like and how a relatively new player like her can survive. I told her basically that as an artist she is charged with the job of staying authentic to who she is and continually engage her audience with what is truthful about her. This is the ultimate place to proof your work whether people love it or hate it – as long as you stand up for it then at least they’ll respect you. Don’t underestimate your audience because they can sense when you are giving it your all or you’re just faking it. That my job at the end of the day was to write based on what’s up on the wall. What an artist produces to represent who they are on that wall, they better own and be proud of it. That’s what it all comes down to.
Erin Smith has already taken these things in good amount with room to grow. The abstract with her technique should be a good launching pad to journey to the moon and back. There was a time when man dreamed of space travel and what the moon must be like. When the reality happened it was wonder beyond belief. I would hope that Smith with this very skillful outing continues to give us wonderment and the propensity to dream.
Erin Smith: To The Moon and Back / On View: January 15 – March 8, 2015
Gallery Schedule: Wednesday to Sunday (12-6-pm) and by appointment
Amy Li Projects. 166 Mott Street. NYC, NY 10013
Art Review by: Oscar A. Laluyan
Photography by: Olya Turcihin