Lucien Smith

Smith creates work that traverses a spectrum of styles and concerns, from chance to purpose, spare to saturated, sublime to familiar. These visual approaches, or conceptual directives, may combine and overlap in one piece, or spread individually through a body of work – each idea originally segregated, fully integrates when understood as an oeuvre. His work acts as a tangible moment, a chronicle of exploration, as he negotiates with existence. He reminds us that an artist’s trajectory is a sensory reflection of individual experience. Lucien Smith received his BFA from Cooper Union in 2011. Recent solo exhibitions include Good Vibrations at Half Gallery, New York, NY, and Seven Rain Paintings at OHWOW, Los Angeles, CA. This year, Smith’s work was also included in Merci Mercy, curated by Christine Messineo, New York, NY, and in Beyond the Object, at Brand New Gallery, Milan, Italy.

Painter, sculptor, film-maker

Lucien Smith is an American artist, b.1989. He lives and works in New York. Smith received a BFA in painting from the Cooper Union School of Art. He has had solo exhibitions in Paris, New York, Kansas, London and LA.

For Smith, introspection, self-revelation and ‘inner navigation’ are used as tools to find inspiration for his works. Each artistic project and phase is directly inspired by his present psychological state. As a result, his works are intensely personal whilst simultaneously assuming an abstract or inanimate aesthetic.

While the paintings from his ‘Rain series’ are superficially calm and the sculptures from his ‘Scrap Metal’ series (both depicted bellow) are apparently lifeless and impersonal, they all harbour a deeper emotional narrative. Smith bridges the two with his focus on the artistic process. By deriving his method of work directly from the emotion or narrative he wishes to express, the work becomes dependant on its means of production. In many ways, his works can be considered as the imprints and tracks left behind by an earlier existence. His art becomes the product or legacy of a particular occurrence – the quasi crime-scene bearing the marks and impressions of a bygone narrative

Smith continually plays with the relationship between an object’s appearance and its story. In this respect, we can detect the influence of Dan Colen, under whom Smith worked as a studio assistant. Colen’s work often appears to depict the aftermath of an cartoon / action movie epic (for instance, Colen’s ‘Sweet Liberty’ exhibition, 2017-18, in which pop-figure sculptures were splayed across the gallery floors, apparently having just run through the walls, leaving body-shaped holes in the walls of the exhibition space). Smith’s ‘Scrap Metal’ sculptures assume a similar status; the
numerous bullet holes penetrating the armour of the metal objects tell the story of action and movement. As with Colen’s ‘Sweet Liberty’, we feel that we are present at what has been the scene of a great upheaval. Smith’s work is less overt in this respect than Colen’s: we are only presented with the aftermath. The perpetrator has long gone, the agent of motion has deserted the scene and remains anonymous. Contextually isolated, the objects are suspended in a liminal space between artifice and reality.

Continuous throughout Smith’s work is the attention given to the relationship between the artist and his environment: the tension between spontaneous, external influence and premeditated human design. Examples of this can be seen in the effect of gravity on the haze of paint in ‘Rain Paintings’, on the uncontrollable gun-fire used to create ‘Scrap Metal’ and on the direction of the paint flow as it was poured across the canvases of his ‘Tigris’ works.

A series of notable series:
‘Rain Paintings’, 2011 This series of abstractions were created by Smith unleashing fire extinguishers filled with paint. Smith views rain as a symbol of loneliness – an association which was compounded for him by reading comic books in which there was often a moment of isolation and defeat: the protagonist withdraws, removes himself from the graphic
action and is shrouded by an aura of melancholic raindrops as he departs. As such, Smith’s attention to rain and spraying paint can be considered as a direct reflection of a deeper fixation on – and experimentation with –
loneliness, isolation and a contemplation of the self.

Smith has publicised that he was emotionally traumatised whilst producing the ‘Rain Paintings’. The explosive method of production that the fire extinguisher enabled proved to be a cathartic experience for Smith and became an external expression of his inner tumult. Ironically, the result was a series of monochromatic abstractions and expressions that combine to create an image that is calm and soothing to the eye.

The importance of the fire-extinguisher’s function is clear; as it is an object designed to pacify a blaze and save lives from incineration, it is only right that the fire-extinguisher should have served to alleviate Smith’s pain. But
the apparatus serves another purpose: by allowing paint to be sprayed at a canvas from a considerable distance, the fire extinguisher enables Smith to experiment with the influence of chance and gravity.

Smith is intrigued by the relationship between artist and his environment, spontaneous influence and human design. He has continued to work with the role of chance and the influence of external environmental factors, such as gravity, were central to his most recent series, ‘Tigris’.

‘Tigris’ series, 2014

This series marks a shift in artistic style that was inspired by a change in life-style. By moving out of the city and temporarily immersing himself in nature, Smith was able to obtain a new appreciation for a spirituality which
claims to have incorporated into his work.

Smith deploys loose brush strokes to depict the river flow, ultimately pouring entire containers of paint on canvases in order to allow the paint to flow relatively freely.

‘Imagined Nostalgia’, 2011 – first solo exhibition – Cooper Union Gallery in New York.

A collaboration with is friend Jack Siegel, exhibiting the human tendency to adorn, idolise and glorify memories from the past. The show featured cereal boxes, toys and yearbook photos and centred on our desire to feel held and
secure in a past context and existence.

The exhibition was inspired by his textbooks from his college course on European Tourism which featured a marketing strategy that organised recreational tours filled with childhood nostalgia. Filled with tropes and popcultural archetypes, these holiday packages seemed to tap into a common adult desire to be re-submerged in the rose-tinted bubble of their childhood.

‘Imagined Nostalgia’, 2011 – first solo exhibition – Cooper Union Gallery in New York.

A collaboration with is friend Jack Siegel, exhibiting the human tendency to adorn, idolise and glorify memories from the past. The show featured cereal boxes, toys and yearbook photos and centred on our desire to feel held and
secure in a past context and existence.

The exhibition was inspired by his textbooks from his college course on European Tourism which featured a marketing strategy that organised recreational tours filled with childhood nostalgia. Filled with tropes and popcultural archetypes, these holiday packages seemed to tap into a common adult desire to be re-submerged in the rose-tinted bubble of their childhood.

Works