Charlie Smith’s Sculptural Hybrids Balance Experimentation and Formalism
Artist Charlie Smith has an unconventional idea about the makeup of the perfect sculpture. Inspiration for his exhibition at Providence’s GRIN Gallery, “Making/Unmaking,” came, in part, from molecular science's super collider—or, in Smith’s view, “the purest sculpture ever created.”
The collider, Smith explains in the show’s statement, “smashes elements/molecules together in hopes that some weird new shit is made that has never existed before.” Smith’s new works, which fuse painting and sculpture, share a similar metamorphic motivation. By combining materials found on an easily accessible shelf at Home Depot—like plywood and two-by-fours—with acrylic paint and rough-hewn alterations and additions, Smith makes works that seem to be suspended mid-transformation.
Like the sculptures of Franz West (another inspiration), Smith’s art-object, painting-sculpture hybrids convey experimentation through a direct reveal of material and process. As they might live in the artist’s studio, most sculptures are displayed on the ground and bristle with wood and paint shavings left over from Smith’s carvings. In Anchors (2014), a precariously bowed, porous center gives way to two smooth, sturdy-seeming bookends painted turquoise. Here, there is a workshop-to-gallery immediacy, where formal ends are balanced by playful, curious means.
Strips (2014) furthers themes of fusion and transubstantiation introduced in Smith’s two-by-four reconfigurations. A sheet of plywood, painted with a bright yellow rhombus (reminiscent of an Imi Knoebel painting), is perforated with a series of long, regimented cuts. Near the end of the sheet, a thin beam is wedged between the resulting yellow and blond tines, propping some above and burying others beneath it. Here, Smith gives us the genesis of conversion—a solid form shape-shifting into something delicate, expanded, and expressly different.
Alexxa Gotthardt is a contributing writer for Artsy.