Pixelated Beasts Come to Life in Shawn Smith’s Glitched-Out Sculptures

Apr 14, 2016 12:55AM

Shawn Smith’s current solo show, “The Hunt,” feels like a chamber in a museum of natural history. The walls of Now Contemporary Art are adorned with multicolored beetles, leaping cheetahs, and flying vultures. A close look, however, reveals them to be not taxidermied specimens but hard-edged, blocky approximations of wild beasts.

Smith’s artworks attempt to understand a world in which the “natural” has been packaged and delivered to us in TV documentaries, YouTube videos, and online slideshows. Accordingly, Smith’s process is both high-tech and analog. He works from images of actual animals, using computers to meticulously plan his complex, pixelated works. However, if Smith embraces the perfection afforded by technology, he also insists on the human efforts of his own hand. He transposes each piece from the screen to the real world, cutting, painting, and organizing hundreds of strips of plywood to re-create each creature.

The results are pixelated, clunky, three-dimensional beasts. Works like Stotting Thomson’s Gazelle (2014) at once seem full of life and utterly dead. Smith captures the gazelle mid-leap, the bends and curves of its anatomy conveyed with a startling amount of detail. Yet the gazelle is ultimately frozen in space, tragically caught in a never-ending jump. Likewise, in HuntFalling Maned Wolf (2016), a wolf seems to perpetually fall to its death.

While these sculptures remain relatively faithful to realistic depictions of wildlife, other pieces veer into another realm. In Glitched Griffon Vulture (2015), for instance, the bird’s top half is lost in a rainbow of glitches—evidence of an inhuman mind having fun with the ones and zeros of pure data.

—A. Wagner

Shawn Smith: The Hunt” is on view at Now Contemporary Art, Miami, Mar. 12–Apr. 30, 2016.

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