The Matte-Black, Minimalist, Monumental Sculpture of Tony Smith
The minimalist sculptures of Tony Smith demand to be seen in the round. Realized in precise, monumental geometric forms and finished in a singular matte-black patina, these works have become synonymous with the artist himself. After studying under Frank Lloyd Wright, practicing architecture for 20 years, and pursuing careers both in teaching and painting, Smith dedicated his final two decades to sculpture. This prolific era resulted in some 50 works that affirmed Smith’s renown and established his (now) signature style.
Each work is cut with particular angles, creating various light effects so that no two adjacent planes give off the same sheen—despite the smooth, homogeneous surface. Smith’s approach, however, was not systematic; rather, it was intuitive, and driven by the creative process. “I use angles that are derived from different solids when they work together, they do not follow an internal system,” the artist explained. “I assemble them, you might say, in capricious ways rather than systematic ways. You have to take each plane as it comes and find out in what ways it will join other planes.”
A prime specimen of Smith’s masterful explorations into the third dimension is For P.C. (1969) at Heather James Fine Art. With six expansive planes, and a series of angles that are each unique, the work stands at five feet tall, and reaches seven feet in width. For P.C. exudes a presence and gravitational pull that beckons its viewers to move in orbit around its form. From various different vantage points, the sculpture appears to be a completely different artwork, as though it were in constant motion, morphing under our very eyes. Expressly evident here is Smith’s ability to disappear any evidence of the imperfections produced by the human hand, leaving behind no hints to elucidate methodology or construction techniques—making these works all the more intriguing and visually mesmerizing.