Anne Smart: New Paintings
This group of new large paintings represents a significant method-shift from the thick, milled carpets of paint and the heavily loaded brushstrokes of Anne Smart’s previous approach. These are pieces which challenge both the technical and spatial principles of her preceding work, and look to break out of painterly constrictions. The emphasis is to push hard at the infrastructure of the painting by interrupting conventional rhythms of both colour and form and by rigorously experimenting with how the painting is made.
In a deliberate move away from orthodox mark making these paintings look to draw on Smart’s training as a sculptor at St Martin’s School of Art. That influence develops the painting as a fluid construction of parts. Just as a passage of structure within a sculpture is manipulated, moved and altered in space, Smart deals with a similarly malleable physicality where the fabric of the work is cut, twisted, scrunched and rotated, ultimately informed by both its ‘objectness’ and its surface.
As groups of elements, collaged forms and free painted marks, these pieces successfully distance themselves from previous impressionistic notions. Smart here is attempting to dissolve the often overtly figurative relationship between the painted mark and the tool that made it. The relationship with the brush, knife or squeezed tube and the quality of the made mark references the painting back to its fabrication. The ambition here is to remove the figurative nature of the size of the brush or the radius of the tube that can hold the scale of the painting in a recognisable dimension. Smart’s approach to collage frees the painting from this self referential providence, and these puddles, cuts, slices, pours and smears form an open language that is uncomfortably new and inherently abstract.
It is compelling in these paintings to have components working individually, as groups and as a whole, not as a mat or carpet of marks but as entities. This is perhaps the bravest move - to not be concerned by securing the new mark with a twin or locking it in place with a similar group of either colour or form. These paintings are about setting elements against their opposite, leaving parts isolated and hanging, and never letting the composition retreat into the safety of symmetry and similarity. This is difficult ground for abstract painting, where an apparent visual unity can disguise the limitations of the discipline. Smart has achieved a great deal here in freeing painting from compositional clichés and seeking a more open, unaccustomed sense of wholeness.
In Much this openness is achieved by never allowing the painting to settle. The triptych format deliberately cuts a hard blue edge at the centre of the composition with a loosely constructed white-pink armature held precariously over a field of scuffed yellow. This constructive method, butting and overlaying wet paint and prefabricated elements also challenges the somewhat figurative restrictions of portrait and landscape format. By building the painting as parts it is not controlled by the predefined edge of the canvas, it is never allowed to contain itself by its dimensions, it is either long or it is tall.
Smart has challenged both how her painting is structured and thus how her use of colour reacts to this more fluid making. In Uppish the verticality of the frame is dragged sideways by glossy puddles of green set against scraped orange and cut through by the hard centre section of white. This refusal to allow the painting to relax lets the rhythmic orange marks of Everything, Everything open up rather than enclose the composition. These smaller brighter staccato marks smash the larger lighter marks backward, vibrating against the cutting centre yellow, itself held by roughly tamped purple and richly underpainted greens. The heavy blue centre of Flatted pressed tight to the thinner angular paper pieces over a scraped yellow exemplifies the potential of orchestrating these visual collisions.
These paintings celebrate their contrasting sense of being still and exploding, of being delicate and robust, relaxed and agitated. The vitality is in never letting one impulse take over, to continually cut away from visual safety. These are not easy paintings; they rigorously challenge stylistic presumptions of what abstract painting can be and what it can look like.
Arthur Smart c.Poussin Gallery 2006