Sacred Lies - New & Used Work by Steven B. Smith
"Sacred Lies are the lies we tell ourselves to help us go on, the lies we need to believe
to keep us from killing ourselves, or others." - Smith
Brandt Gallery, May 3 - June 13 2003
Amy Bracken Sparks
Angle, a Journal of Arts + Culture - June 2003
Over the years, Smith's rococo oeuvre hasn't changed much: mixed-media works whose picture fields are crowded with found objects vying for attention, with a heavy emphasis on religious kitsch and Americana. His mostly new work at Brandt Gallery, titled Sacred Lies - Love Truth Honor Family, honors this history.
But among the oxidized copper and highly textured backgrounds holding toys and wire, bits of mirror and thrift-store melange is a whiff of something different. Could Smith be mellowing with age? There is a restraint in the new work, a bit more abstraction, and far less collision and assault.
The works are smaller, for one thing, and have a kind of fluid grace. On one wall a suite of 9 pieces works as one unit: a series of rounded-edged rectangles and circles in similar tones. They are darkened, charred, or feature his familiar oxidized green. One work, Last Year's Poetry, is a rusty, oxidized piece with broken twigs arranged in a falling pattern. It has an essence of regret, as if the twigs were tossed in a new variation of the I-Ching, one signaling the sad passing of time.
Smith's raw and often unwieldy work belies a formal sense of composition, of balance and symmetry. Even the asymmetrical pieces have a gesture, or a piece of material that acts as a balancing agent.
One easily overlooked piece, Family, is a small black and white composition with an encrusted surface. On the right side is a toy figure of a cowboy, painted black and slightly disfigured. On the left is the same cowboy, only far more disfigured - decapitated and missing most of its lower body. It's a comment on how the individual is reflected in the family, and how the family is reflected in the individual, and how that can equal distortion. Family history plays a big part in Smith's work: his pieces are like genetic code, recombinant DNA floating in a fertile soup of pure possibility.
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