This exhibition shines a powerful light on Ben Smith's passionate discourse of the place of the figurative in paint. He delves into moments of personal reflection and ubiquitous, often amusing observations of the world we inhabit. In doing so, the artist questions all that we hold dear—the material and the ethereal. The paintings are a vision of a dreamlike state. Smith reminds us of the time when our subconscious rules our head, where mystery plays with reality—that time when we are truly ourselves.
Throughout the exhibition, Smith has blurred the lines of perception and reality. For the realist painter, the truth in image making and the representation of reality is of paramount importance. It provides a platform to present the illusion of space and play out a moment in time—to tell a story or deliver a visual allegory to the audience.
Smith, a remarkable painter and accomplished in the realist manner, is pushing his practice in this exhibition towards abstraction. It is not that he has a burning desire to be an abstractionist. However, the creation of a picture plain that is in part, ambiguous in form and colour palette, allows for the existentialist ambitions of his subjects to play out. Smith’s figures inhabit a world that is intriguing rather than literal.
In Ascension Geodesic—Smith inverts Duchamp’s 1912 seminal Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2). Smith’s nude is walking up a curved staircase to an equally uncertain destination as Duchamp’s version. It is a painting that pervades a sensuousness and desire, enticing the viewer to walk further into the picture with the subject.
Contemporary modes of transport—cars, buses, vespas, and in a nod to another time, a horse—all meticulously rendered—hint at the modern efficiency that we can now indulge our restless search for meaning in life. The figure in Smith’s paintings metaphorically points us to the void that we as humans are both drawn to, and fearful of.
For us, relationships and religion serve as signposts in our search of utopia. Yet, no matter how quickly we seek a destination, we are often confronted with making choices along the journey—resulting in an outcome as ambiguous and beautiful as the paintings in Threshold.