Anj Smith
Geometry of Bliss

Past Exhibition 7 Sep – 2 Oct 2010 New York, 69th Street


No larger than an envelope and as lapidary as an 11th century Persian miniature, Anj Smith‘s painting ‘R.’ depicts a close friend of the artist as a 21st century Mona Lisa. An enigmatic figure stares out from the folds of an exquisitely rendered couture creation of tulle and fur, a leather bustier, and a Liberty print wrap. Behind her, a strip of daylight outlines the sea beyond distant hills. But as the details of this picture accrue, so do its contradictions. R’s golden curls are in fact facial whiskers; her silks are decaying; her collar contains clinging rodents; and the landscape around her is dissolving into abstraction, bisected by a jagged white tear. Neither woman nor man, R. is instead a person suspended in transition from one gender to another just as the hour of her day hovers ambiguously between dawn and dusk. She embodies what Anj Smith describes as ‘the anxiety of existing in a climate where nothing is stable, everything is profoundly uncertain, with gender boundaries constituting just one of the many lost structures of the times in which we’re living.’

On September 7th, ‘R.’ and 13 other new paintings by Anj Smith will go on view in ‘Geometry of Bliss’ at Hauser & Wirth New York. The exhibition, which launches the gallery’s autumn season, will remain on view through October 2nd.

Rapture and regression are Anj Smith’s subjects. In her extravagantly detailed magic realism, apocalyptic landscapes, mysterious female figures, fashionable finery, and wittily rendered creatures are used to investigate the possibility of a contemporary sublime – an experience that, contrary to the tenets of 19th century Romanticism, can no longer be located in nature. Drawing upon sources as disparate as 17th century Dutch vanitas paintings, the works of Lucas Cranach, and the couture of Chanel and Comme des Garçons, Smith weaves archaic traditions and contemporary symbols together into a personal cosmology.

The paintings in ‘Geometry of Bliss’ explore issues of identity, eroticism, horror, mortality, and the collisions of these things in our increasingly fragile and uncertain world. In the three portraits ‘Reconstructon,’ ‘The Combatant’ and ‘R.,’ composite proxies smile faintly at the viewer from within the landscape; they wear Philip Treacy hats or cowboy boots, and bleed from self-inflicted cuts that trace the vine and flower patterns of fancy textiles. With the majority of her new paintings, however, Smith forgoes the human figure to signal ‘a mere presence’ through detritus that has been left behind. In ‘Lost Patteran’ (patteran is an archaic word for the improvised signs Medieval travelers would leave for one another, using crossed twigs and other found natural objects to send coded messages about things that lay ahead), a swath of disintegrating, prettily patterned luxury fabric hangs from branches placed atop a dripping, excremental hill.

‘I see my work as partly being a comment upon the delight and materiality of painting as well as the limits of being an artist in general,’ Smith has written. ‘I try to convey both the clumsy pointlessness of painting as a means of representation, and the inaccessibility of the heavens, while making an object that contradicts both these things. One of the things I find deeply satisfying about painting is that by using different languages, portals of contrasting logic can pop up unexpectedly at any time. As long as they resonate with the conceptual intentions of the work, I let them in.’

Selected images

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About the artist

‘I love the idea that painting, pointless technologically, can still hypnotise and seduce us. For me, this is where the uniquely profound nature of painting is located, as no other medium offers this specific legacy. Its multiple deaths, resuscitations and evolutions make…

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