2012 by Anj Smith
SHOWcabinet at SHOWstudio until 27 February 2015
At SHOWstudio, Smith’s painting Apparatus is surrounded by a cabinet of curiosities – objects that have inspired her work. The cabinet is particularly apt for Smith’s work as her spider web of influence creeps particularly poignantly into her strange and surreal paintings. The figures in her work appear melting with the objects of their, or indeed Smith’s, imagination. The effect is vaguely unsettling, darkly probing in bringing creatures and objects out of the depths to cling to her often melancholy characters. Having the objects themselves surrounding the painting, each nestled in its own black cavern, give the appearance of the painting spreading out three-dimensionally before us. A lavishly ornate French wedding dome is sat across from a wooden tree of taxidermy goldfinches; eighteenth-century Indian illustrations are paired against the glittering gold of 185 million year old ammonites. This is a treasure trove of precious objects spanning an incredible breadth of time and the effect is like diving into one of Smith’s paintings. Apparatus centres these objects’ stage like an icon; the figure’s pose mirroring that of many medieval Virgin Mary’s. Her skin has the flat pallor that renders medieval figures never quite alive, the dark circles that surround her eyes pulling her persona further into a realm of otherness. If we look carefully, her face is adorned with delicate hairs that creep primeval-like up her nose and around her lips; the lips, dark red, crinkled and almost visibly dry, are curled downwards. Nestled among the ethereal wisps of blonde hair are bats, huge ears pricked, thin translucent pink wings spread, as well as the soft fronds of feathers. Nature is omnipresent, creeping across the figure’s clothes in all manner of insects, springing forth in twigs, buds and flowers. There is something wonderfully old-fashioned in Smith’s style, yet her bizarre subjects counter any expectations of the usual. Her paintings are exquisitely detailed; layered so delicately that colour and form are bold, yet there isn’t so much as a hint of a brush stroke.