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SMUG's Facial Expressions

Words:

Edd Norval
August 14, 2018

Although the tools don't make the tradesman, they can help. That's why most photorealistic artists use the best brushes, as any blemish takes away from the goal of the piece - to be as precise as possible. That Australian-born street artist Smug uses only cans, makes his artwork all the more remarkable.

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A lot of photorealistic work that appears on the street uses brushes or some form of stencilling. Smug seemed to feel comfortable creating lifelike faces on walls, but maybe this comfort is what pushes him on to continue experimenting with differences in light and form, always staying true to his use of the can. His earliest pieces would faithfully stick to the source material, emulating what he saw in front of him with incredible precision, especially considering his tools and his canvas - a spray can and rough uneven walls.


After testing the waters of his limitations, he really began to cement his position as one of the pre-eminent practitioners of graffiti and street art around the world. By holding onto his roots in graffiti (utilising a spraycan gives him kudos in that crowd) - he's shown that he's not going to be limited by any label. His more recent advances in terms of his willingness to engage with more conceptual and expressionistic features have endeared him to the street art world in equal measure.


The lighting on his characters faces will often be a reflection of their physical situation in real life. They seem to belong exactly where they are. Besides this, he's began to incorporate other elements like a neon underglow, giving the faces a sort of humorous and playful tone. This, combined with the strained and odd expressions, make the characters of Smug easily distinguishable from his peers. He might not be the only one that's able to paint like this, but he's the only one with such iconoclasm.

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Smug's introduction of props are also interesting. The choices never fail to amuse for their seeming randomness, and for the way that, considering the strange wholeness of the image, they work unquestioned. The Australian artist, real name Sam Bates, is now a resident of Glasgow, Scotland. Since trading the hot for the cold, he's given his talent the necessary room and change-of-perspective to begin to fully develop in a city that is equally going through a post-industrial renaissance - quickly becoming Scotland's home of culture, from the high-brow to the thigh-brow.


The way he arranges his portraits, fully equipped with koalas, canes and their neon underglow, makes it clear that this is an artist unashamedly exploring their technical boundaries as much as their conceptual ones. In a world where we long for meaning, Smug has found his, less in telling a narrative, and more in his own artistic journey where he configures pieces as a means of challenging his own capabilities. It's because of this self-confidence that his development has been exponential. Although not a heavy poster on Instagram, each piece displays a marked improvement.


His paintings grace walls the world over and a lot of them capture locals that themselves, give the place its character. Local artists, musicians and chefs likenesses appear on the city's facades - their presence acts as a reminder that cities should never forget the people in them. Smug's paintings have a unique style and with every one released, continue to be social media favourites. With someone that is so set on pushing their limits, there's really none too high for him. As long as there are faces, there will be walls painted with them.

Video by Spraying Bricks.

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