Alan Smith, fugitive archives, by Joyce Cheng

Fugitive Archives                       Alan Smith

In Alan Smith’s work, the tension between image and presence is a constant theme. Both in his painting and drawing, the image emerges only as the result of an intense negotiation with the medium. The small format in which he works almost exclusively is as intimate as it is impersonal. The work is close at hand, tactile like a Byzantine icon, but it also distances by virtue of its opacity. Unlike a window, a mirror or a digital screen, it cannot be uncomfortably looked into.

In Fugitive Archives, drawing becomes a way of exploring how things come to be both stripped (dépouillés) and intensified by memory. As in Seurat’s sketches in conte-crayon, one glimpses not things but their incidental profiles and spectral contours. But perhaps more like Bonnard, who had insisted on painting from memory, Alan Smith depicts objects as carriers of what has yet to become significant for remembrance. The bowl is not a souvenir (how could specific memories be evoked by something that has given up particular qualities of its own?) Instead it is a kind of silent witness, an inert receptacle for attention directed elsewhere. A peripheral object, the bowl lurks in the margin of perception like an apparition. But it also makes itself seen by its edge, that immaterial parabola hovering above the head of the saint in a Quattrocento painting, marking the threshold between reality and imagination.

It is difficult to speak of style or effect when looking at the work of Alan Smith, where traces of manner or personal touch are rigorously concealed by the tightness of the surface and the constriction of the support. Yet there is nothing mechanical about the reprise of the square format and the recurrence of what seems to be the same object (is it?) The seriality rather captures the essence of recollection: it is often as much about rehearsal as it is about revision.

Joyce Cheng

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