Eclectic Bright Matter

Shinique Smith's new show of paintings, sculpture, installations, video & performance, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, August 23, 2014 - March 1, 2015

Shinique Smith, No Key, No Question (detail), 2013, acrylic, ink, fabric & collage on canvas over panel. Pamela Joyner/Alfred Giuffrida Collection. Image credit: Jason Mandella. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai. © Shinique SmithShinique Smith, Bright Matter, 2013, clothing, fabric, and ribbon on wood panel, 63 x 52 x 5” Private Collection. Image credit: Adam Reich; Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai© Shinique Smith. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts BostonSome how she makes it work — makes it all come together as art worthy of display in one-person shows at noted galleries and major museums.  That’s the electic art of Shinique Smith: combos of swatches of polyester-looking fabric, Japanese calligraphy, graffiti tags, acrylic painting done in a swirling, kaleidoscopic style; and bulky bundles of cast-off clothing tied haphazardly together like donations headed for thrift store. (The bundle pieces are not shown here.)  It's a magic of recycling with a proficient painter's touch.

Shinique Smith's impetus to work with textile and graffiti can be traced to her youth.  Her mother crocheted wearable art creations and her high school boyfriend was a tagging wiz.  To the informed observer of her work, the Japanese calligraphy might have a link to Smith's early exposure to Buddhism through her mother’s spiritual practice but it also seems like a natural progression from graffiti writing in ink on paper; maybe it’s both.  The effulgent, abstract expressionist painting style grows out of her study at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

In 2006, Shinique Smith (born 1971) was one of 35 emerging artists in The Studio Museum in Harlems Frequency exhibition. Like her Frequency co-exhibitors Mickalene Thomas, Nick Cave, Demetrius Oliver, Rodney McMillan, Xaviera Simmons, Jefferson Pinder and others, Smith went on to become a major, contemporary artist.  She is internationally admired for her paintings, sculpture, large-scale installations and body impressions pressed in ink against walls.

Shinique Smith, Through Native Streets, 2011, ink, acrylic, fabric and paper collage and found objects on canvas over panel,60 x 48 x 6.” Image credit: Adam Reich; Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai © Shinique Smith. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts BostonShinique Smith, There Were Sunday Mornings, 2008, acrylic, fabric, collage on canvas, 40 x 30 x 72”. Image credit: Adam Reich; Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai © Shinique Smith. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, BostonAnd now she's putting on the finishing touches for a retrospective exhibition of this first phase of her career. Shinique Smith/Bright Matter will be on view August 23, 2014 - March 1, 2015 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The exhibition surveys 30 key works from the past decade while debuting more than a dozen new pieces, including painting, sculpture, full-room installation, video, and performance. The exhibition marks a significant return to Boston for Smith, who completed her Masters in Teaching at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts (2000) while working full-time with high school students. 

Last year, shortly after Shinique Smith's exhibition at James Cohan gallery, IRAAA+ contributing writer Schwanda Rountree visited Smith at her studio and contributed a report which is reprinted below as background context for this latest news about the artist.

Bold As Love

There’s an energy of excitement and anticipation that comes on the opening night of an art gallery show, especially in Chelsea, and it pervaded Bold As Love, Shinique Smith’s debut exhibit at James Cohan Gallery in New York, February 15- March 16, 2013. 

Inspired by the vast vocabulary of things we consume and trash, Smith collects discarded clothing, toys, furniture and miscellaneous scraps for her pieces.   The collected bits of fabric and paper are embellished by bold black swerving lines that originate in Japanese calligraphy and graffiti and take off in all directions.

Smith’s signature pieces speak in the graceful and spiritual qualities of the calligraphy traces and the bold street attitude of the tags.

Shinique Smith at exhibition opening. Photo courtesy James Cohan Gallery.The spiritual inspiration behind the pieces comes from the Tibetan Meditation Center in Maryland where she spent much time as a young girl, attending sessions with her mother.

Shinique Smith, Gravity of Love, courtesy James Cohan GalleryHer connection to graffiti goes back to her adolescence in Baltimore.  The nostalgic artistry of tagging all comes from those from years of hanging with a crew of graffiti artists.   She attributes some of her hand style from a high school boyfriend who was an artist.  While pursuing her master’s at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she studied the relationship between graffiti and Japanese calligraphy.

“It’s a constant dance between chaos and order,” explained Smith in a New York Times interview.  I learned more about the interplay of these opposites myself when I spoke with the artist shortly after the opening.

In this new body of work, the oppositions are unified in an interplay of disarray and restraint, balance and connection, and what is revealed and concealed.

One of the most alluring pieces is the large scale piece, My Song to Sing — small fabric sections create a striking collage on wood panel, marked with calligraphic shadows.Shinique Smith. The Spark. Photo courtesy James Cohan Gallery.

“The collage is reproductions of my work over the years,” Smith says.  “In using them, I was able to enfold painting, sculpture, and installation into one work and imbue it with a non-linear narrative of my history as an artist.”   The calligraphic text which is woven throughout are personal words of gratitude and thoughts for the future.  “So, this one in particular was a meditative and reflective one for me, because of the spiral form and autobiographical content.”

Smith’s mother was one of her early influences.  A former editor for Baltimore Magazine, Vkara Phifer-Smith also crocheted women’s apparel and took her daughter to fashion shows where these crochet designs graced the runways.  The mother’s wearable art morphed into the daughter’s intricate bundles of fabric sculptures.

Smith does not have to travel far for pieces to incorporate into her sculptures.  “The majority of the materials I use come from friends, first and secondhand stores, and my own closet.  I mostly find odd or unexpected things in random, banal places all over.  Some of the more curious finds occurred within a block of my apartment in Brooklyn.”

Schwanda Rountree at Shinique Smith’s studio. Photo Rountree collection.Shinique Smith currently is working on a commission for the new Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot in Central Harlem by MTA Arts for Transit.   This monumentally scaled commission measures 6,672 square feet and includes a large-scale mosaic across the facade with laminated glass windows throughout.

Schwanda Rountree is an attorney and art collector who lives in Washington DC.  She recently launched Rountree Art Consulting which places contemporary artwork in museums and in private collections.