Lucien Smith: The Accidental Tourist

Nov 11, 2013 4:37PM

"My parents always forced me to look at art, and they made sure I drew and painted because that was my alternative to reading." - Lucien Smith

Blending a laidback west coast attitude with Brooklyn grit, Lucien Smith has reinvigorated downtown cool with a renewed allegiance to craft and skill. While Smith’s work is full of a laconic distance from his subjects, in it is manifest an earnest engagement with the history of painting.

Smith is best known for paintings that invade the border between representation and abstraction and in Hobbes, The Rain Man, and My Friend Barney / Under the Sycamore Tree, 2011 we find an important lodestar in the artist’s aesthetic, as well as psychological, constellation. This work is a striking, large-scale painting lushly depicting a scene from the second Winnie-the-Pooh animated Disney film. However, the painting is in its own way a redacted form of this animated classic, as Smith has removed the character of Piglet who, in the filmed version, was the only figure in the scene.

This characterless background turns the animated children’s fable into a classical landscape painting, focusing on the natural form of the tree and the wind, and harkening specifically back to Japanese folding screens, Claude Monet’s Weeping Willow, and perhaps most closely, Gustave Courbet’s Oak Trees, 1854.

In Hobbes, The Rain Man, and My Friend Barney / Under the Sycamore Tree, we have the artist playing back and forth between fiction and truth; the very title itself steers the viewer and artist back towards seemingly slight childhood charms, the comic novels of Pooh, as well as the comic strips of Calvin and Hobbes that are in-and-of themselves imbued with nostalgia as well as important Eastern and Western philosophy.

Reflecting his upbringing as an only child, Smith investigates places of intellectual and emotional escape, as well as the schema of imaginary friends. In this work the artist manages to locate where these obsessions overlap; in the magical space below the blowing tree, where Pooh and his friends search for meaning in the absurd, is where Smith has erased the friend closest to Pooh who may or may not exist. He has removed Pooh’s, and perhaps his own, id.

Lucien Smith's Hobbes, The Rain Man, and My Friend Barney / Under the Sycamore Tree, 2011 will be offered in our Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 11 November 2013, in New York. The painting is the first by the artist to go up for auction.

Read more: 'Lucien Smith Senior Thesis Work Leads Phillips Evening Sale' (via Gallerist)

Additional image source: Lucien Smith portrait by Alexis Dahan (via Purple Magazine)