Set in Amber

Anj Smith on the art of Florence, new and old

  • Apr 15, 2022

On the occasion of her exhibition ‘A Willow Grows Aslant the Brook’ at Museo Stefano Bardini in Florence, the British artist Anj Smith talks about the importance of breaking with the cacophany of our data-saturated age, about Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron’ and about the ceaseless potential of the medium of paint. In the storied city so central to the Renaissance, navigating and re-evaluating historical context is a time-honored practice. And inside the museum’s rooms, filled with Roman sarcophagi, Quattrocento painting and Gothic stone relief, Smith uses her intricate work to enter into a curious dialogue with tradition and change.

‘Anj Smith. A Willow Grows Aslant the Brook,’ Museo Stefano Bardini, Florence. Photo: Serge Domingie. Courtesy the artist and Museo Novecento, Florence

Anj Smith, S.O.S, 2016 - 2017 © Anj Smith. Photo: Alex Delfanne

For more than two decades, Smith’s rich visual language has embraced the instability of meaning. Contemporary and archaic symbols and techniques are woven together in paintings that explore the edges of representation in familiar and unfamiliar ways. ‘The observer is invited to be patient and to gaze with curiosity before entering these remarkable Wunderkammers, embarking on a journey that is not only optical but also mental,’ says Sergio Risaliti, the exhibition’s curator.

Collapsing the definitions of portraiture, landscape and still-life, Smith’s complex compositions destabilize the viewer’s sense of time. ‘I think of these works a little bit like an insect trapped in amber,’ Smith explains. ‘They're made at a specific moment in time and they're reflective of that. But at the same time, I really hope that they open out into asking much wider philosophical questions.’

A Willow Grows Aslant the Brook’ is Anj Smith’s first solo exhibition in Italy, on view at Museo Stefano Bardini from 17 December 2021 – 1 May 2022.