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David Smith and The Raw Atmosphere of Nature

Words:

Edd Norval
March 30, 2020

Irish artist David Smith captures the inherent atmosphere of the natural landscape, detailed with claustrophobic weather conditions and stark silhouettes of organic matter, degrading and decomposing over time - accurately depicting the immensity of his subject whilst making a statement on the environmental impact of our times.

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Sometimes you don’t have to feature humans to make a comment about them. By showing where we live, what we’ve made or what we’re leaving behind, can one faithfully portray who and how we are as a people. Smith, acknowledging the power of absence, captures vast wooded landscapes that not only evoke the sheer grandiosity of the natural world, but ask us to reassess our relationship to it.

Utilising the textural qualities of his equipment; from working surface to painting materials, Smith projects his message through each stroke, allowing the depth of his thoughts to permeate the pieces. In one collection, the artist paints onto solid birch plywood panels with oil washes to extract subtle layers of light and colour from the chemical qualities of the paint. Decaying the surface adds reality to the contents of the still and static image.

The spatial ambiguity and anonymity of time or season give the lands a relatability, a sort of slate for us to project our own ideas. With their dreamy colour palette, a narrative structure is woven into it, the paintings themselves appearing like a backdrop, a setting for human endeavour, or alternatively, as documentation of the remnants of human destruction.

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Transcience and temporaneous timeframes are overwhelmingly exuded by the works, as if this is a land that is on its last legs - that these images are more a still-image of landscapes that, by the time it has come for us to view the paintings, will be even further through their organic life-cycle.

Having lived in Hong-Kong for 11 years, Smith’s pieces are heavily influenced by Chinese ink paintings in the animated randomness of their formation and the kinetic appliance of the strokes. In-keeping with the Chinese artistic style, the paintings vagueness and minimalism contribute to the mystique of the landscapes, an unrequited love letter to nature that the artist writes and re-writes with every new piece..

In their familiarity, as in their alluring natural appeal, we are beckoned to participate in a mutual relationship with the art, to better understand it and attach ourselves in the way we may to other images that evoke a memory. Fostering such a personal understanding gives Smith the means to enhance his audience’s correspondence with nature. If we love something, we’re bound to protect it.

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