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Marc Straus Gallery
Party On, 2017
Oil on canvas
Signed verso in marker
64 x 64 x 2 in.


Artist to gallery

Clive Smith is a highly trained British painter interested in how contemporary painting can speak to modern societal issues.

For two decades Smith primarily focused on portraits, including self-portraits. Much like Lucian Freud, these paintings capture the emotional density of the sitter. Now in his recent work, Smith features intricate bird’s nests that gracefully rest on exquisite ceramic plates similar to those one might see displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

The juxtaposition is at first unlikely: the highly valued antique plate contrasted with the natural phenomena of bird-made structures. Referencing the book, “Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio” by Genevieve Jones and her family, Smith perceived a way to expand his language. He captures the delicacy and glaze of precious ceramics or a humble bird-made nest sitting within – here the roughness of the twig or shine of an errant piece of plastic is reminiscent of classical oil paintings. Up close the surface devolves into abstraction.

These paintings address a poignant issue: incorporated into the plate patterns are tales of accidental species extinction. For example, one painting shows the plight of the Passenger Pigeon, once the most numerous of birds in North America. At 1pm on 1st September 1914, the last of the species named Martha, died in the Cincinnati zoo, the only time the world likely witnessed a species extinction.

In another new series of paintings, Smith ruminates on the insatiable demand of modern consumer culture. As an effect of mass industrialization, we often discard broken, disposable things and replace them with the next design trend. This unintentionally contributes to pollution.

Referencing the Japanese art of Kintsugi – repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold or silver to highlight the breakage – Smith is interested in how breakage and repair becomes part of the object’s history and dignity, and is viewed as beautiful. By breaking a plate and gluing it back together, Smith found accidental “ready made” broken lines to work around and within. Approaching each plate as he would a portrait painting, and bestowing it with personality like hard-worn wrinkles through the luscious application of paint, Smith blurs the lines between realism and abstraction, Fine Art and Applied Art.

Smith presents an unapologetic and authentic presence of these objects with exquisite mastery. They make us think about how we value the handmade, what is art, what is beautiful, what is enduring and what is transient.

Smith (b. 1967, St. Albans, England) lives and works in New York. In 1999 he won First Prize, BP Portrait Award, at London’s National Portrait Gallery. He has had numerous museum exhibitions that include the National Portrait Gallery, London, UK. His work is in many public collections such as in the Cleveland Museum of Art, US; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, KC, US; and the National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.