Anj Smith; ‘Phosphor on the Palms’ at Hauser & Wirth 22.09.15 – 21.11.15

In terms of contemporary art, the exhibition “Phosphor on the Palms” is a rarity. Entering the white walls of Hauser & Wirth you will notice a certain emptiness that dominates the space. Naturally this pushes the viewer towards the small-scale oil paintings that are displayed systematically across the gallery space, letting us discover the infinity of detail and realist mysticism that awaits us there. This is Anj Smith’s biggest solo show to date with over 20 works made over the past three years.

Installation view
Installation view

Smith’s paintings guide the viewer along a path through the gallery space; each is hung at a perfect height for closer inspection. Within these compositions one can easily be transported into another dimension where every intricacy is executed in uncompromised perfection. Despite the beauty of overwhelming detail these paintings hold, they are just as undeniably nightmarish. With your back turned away from the center of the space your eyes flit from one piece to the next, and your feet can do nothing but follow.

Letters of the Unconcious
Letters of the Unconscious

Although visually similar, the themes that these paintings explore are extensive; using iconography Smith explores, fashion, nature, consumerism, gender, isolation and many more all in a dream like hyperrealism. In an exhibition as rare as this in it’s traditional craftsmanship, there is obviously a continued conversation about painting and technology. Smith has said herself “There’s something about painting now that, because we have so much technology, we don’t have an essential need for. I’m deciding to sit there for hours daily just to create one image.”

Faune
Faune

This is not done in vain. The works in this exhibition make the awe that was evoked by grand oil paintings in the past, comprehensible to contemporary audiences. Not only this, but unlike most contemporary painters Smith avoids expressing her relationship with reality in a visually abstract way. Instead, she takes abstract concepts and transforms them into magical realism. Smith does not attempt to simplify these abstractions but instead embraces them ‘in all their complexities’, in a way that allows the viewer to reflect on the truly absurd times we are living in.

Uncurtaining the Night
Uncurtaining the Night

These surreal landscapes and portraits do not only sit on the wall as a window into another world, but throughout the exhibition they gradually begin to permeate into the third dimension. Starting with ‘Uncurtaining the night’ a viewer with a keen eye will notice that very small reliefs of paint have been left to dry at the bottom of the composition, creating the physical texture of a forest floor. Smith’s painting seep more and more into the physical world until we are faced with ‘The excreted’, which is so small in scale and so heavily caked in paint that it barely functions as a physical painting and becomes almost fully sculptural.

The Excreted
The Excreted

This show is as diverse in its readings as you imagine it to be, there are monkeys crawling out of paintings along side sad, sunken eyes, scaled creatures and symbols of high fashion. No carefully composed image in this exhibition talks about the same subject as the last, each creates it’s own individual paradigm that parodies everyday consumer culture into alien landscapes, reflecting the multiple aspects of our ever-changing contemporary society.

THIS IS A SERIOUS ADVERT

A couple of weeks ago I was told that I needed to have a piece of work ready for an exhibition in my studio by this week. As I have arrived late to the course, after a brief month and a half of confusion at the University of Westminster, I have found it difficult to make friends in my new class as it is past the ‘freshers’ introduction phase. So I started thinking about who would be seeing this piece of work and how I could kill two birds with one stone, as such. I started this project by focusing on an unflattering but highly comical picture of me taken in a club. After looking at Shepard Fairey’s work with his ‘OBEY’ propaganda style posters, I simplified the image of my face to a simple black and white drawing and started adding simple text around it. I then went on to simplify this drawing even further in order to turn it into a stencil, as I found working in photoshop took away the humour of the piece but working by hand was too tedious and bland but I still wanted the piece to have a ‘hand-made’ feel to it. After a lot of development and fine tuning I came up with this A2 design:

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                                                                                ‘THIS IS A SERIOUS ADVERT.’

This piece is meant to be many things, it is both propaganda and portraiture, performance and visual. The portraiture side of this piece led me to add in a list of my ‘qualities’, which flits between negative and positive descriptions showing both sides to my personality and desperate situation: ‘FUN LOVING LONELY COOL SAD FREE SPIRIT’. I didn’t want the final poster to be perfectly presented, like the experiments I was getting out of photoshop as I felt that the messiness of it was important to show the honesty behind it. I am hoping that this piece confuses people, I hope people don’t know whether to take is as a joke or to take it seriously and get in contact, the piece contains my own contact details so I am interested to see whether anyone does try to use them. The title I have chosen ‘THIS IS A SERIOUS ADVERT’ is also meant to disorientate people between fiction and reality, does the audience laugh or do they get involved? This was inspired by my recent lectures on semiotics which has made me more aware of the viewers interpretation of my work and therefore made me question how much control I have over the work once it is out of my bedroom and into the studio for all to see. I am not usually an ‘image maker’ so I struggled a lot with getting this piece together, I am thinking of maybe turning the portrait of myself into a tag to start putting around places that I visit frequently to start making this identity and advertisement I have made recognised by everyday people possibly even mapping my journey into and around university using these stickers.

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Original image.