Born in Indiana, Smith’s relationship with art was fraught with complications of exposure and class. His rural upbringing limited his access to art beyond the traditional classroom context, and he struggled to establish a creative outlet that combined his artistic talent with the skills he learned working in industrial factories. Originally Smith perceived himself as a painter, a foundation that enriched his approach to sculpture “in part because of his painter’s background, he… never accepted the traditional separation of pictorial and sculptural approaches” (ibid., 18). In the mid-1930s Smith began to move “away from the early amalgams of objects assembled in roughly the form of the human figure and into the first truly creative art of his career” (ibid., 39). To Smith, this was a natural progression in his development: “After my student period in painting….my painting had turned to constructions which had risen from the canvas so high that a base was required where the canvas should be, I was now a sculptor” (Cleve Gray, David Smith: Sculpture and Writing, London 1968, p. 68). Smith’s oeuvre has been confirmed to be largely self-referential and heavily dependent on preceding innovations; in the welded steel planes and wire arches of Ad Mare can be found the vocabulary of Smith’s future series. The representational graceful movement of the Agricola series, and the balanced geometry of both the Zig and Cubi works are presaged in Ad Mare. The dynamic focal point inviting the possibility of collaboration with the viewer would also become a trademark of Smith’s work.
In Ad Mare, Smith incorporates thin sweeping rods into the pieces, constructing lines in the air, akin to drawing in space. He diverges from the monolithic solid standards of the era with purpose, rooted in his admiration of Picasso, González, and Giacometti. Avoiding a conventional core, Smith moves toward the periphery, establishing planes and poles, and ultimately creating a multitude of viewing experiences based on perspective. Ad Mare has two distinct poles that interact through the juxtaposition of shapes and motion. The crescent shape of the base is rendered sharp and delicate by the thin sheet of steel from which it is formed. The base works expertly with negative space, creating awareness of an absence of the material that has been carved away with acute precision. The solid block-like elements of the work stabilize it, adding counterbalanced mass to each of the two peripheral poles of the sculpture and rooting the composition of the image presented. From each solid element, there are proportional counterbalances. Nimbly winding wires burst forth from a dense block, evoking movement and momentum. The two sharp cones both end in a tapered apex that beautifully couple with the planar solidity of the mass from which they arise. Through his use of arching and thrusting wires emitted from slabs of steel, Smith creates and harnesses action, drawing the viewer’s eyes toward, not simply the various elements of the work, but the interaction and collaboration between the elements, as well as between the viewer and the work.
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