It was a great pleasure to drop by Standard Projects in Hortonville, WI this past Saturday to catch up on all the art happenings there, and to meet up with the most recent artist-in-residence, Trina May Smith. When I dropped by, she had just returned from a spontaneous drive around the local area, scouting out the location as much as getting out of the studio for a little bit. One thing that was very clear from the moment I sat down is that Smith is one of those painters who has the enviable ability to sit in the studio and paint incredibly detail-oriented small-scale paintings for hours, content to let the work guide how much time she spends focused on them.
Smith is a lecturer in art at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and I learned during our chat that she was responsible for a fair amount of student interest in Young Space's pop-up art exhibition this past April. It was really cool to hear from an artist-educator about the importance of getting university art students to participate in opportunities outside of the college curriculum -- ones that offer some sort of real world experience in some level.
Smith is originally from Montana and spent several years in Seattle and Madison, WI during college. She has been in Oshkosh for about three years, and travels as much as she can during the summers, in addition to working diligently on her paintings.
The work she had been doing at Standard Projects was very much in progress when I was able to see it, but the two small pieces were already coming together. Smith's practice is generally concerned with themes of urban decay and destruction, so many of her prior works have focused on examples of rubble or buildings fires. Influenced by the surroundings of rural Wisconsin and the village of Hortonville during her stay, she was drawn to examples of kitsch as well, compelled by the strange sort of roadside oddities that play such an intrinsic part of the rural landscape. One such spot was a concrete lawn ornament business in the next town over, where the entire front yard is covered various sizes and shapes of cast sculptures meant for garden decoration. Smith made a composite image of some of the lawn ornaments and a large Airstream trailer that sits outside of the Standard Projects building (another art project in progress that I'll touch on in a future post).
But unlike the Airstream image, the subject of the other painting came ready-made. A decrepit and fading billboard sits in what appears to be an old barn with pieces of wood and other material windblown and jutting out at all angles. In both of these works, Smith laid down a detailed layer of acrylic paint, which she then goes over with oil in some places to smooth out the finer details.
Smith is interested not only in the painting itself, but also in the shape of the surface. Although the two images she worked on at Standard Projects were rectangular pieces of cradled panel, she explained that she has always been interested the idea of experiencing a painting a little bit at a time. For example, her graduate work included a painting that was 8 inches high and 20 feet long. With such tiny detail, a viewer would have to take in a little bit at a time or risk losing some of the story. And not that there is necessarily a narrative, but the idea is that one must "travel" from one part of the painting to another in order to take it all in, rather than being able to see it all at once. A piece she has in the works includes a 3-dimensional 360 degree painting surface that looks like a giant. Whether it sits on the floor or is suspended from the ceiling, it is physically impossible to see more than about 1/3 of the painting at once, and even less of that before it starts to become skewed around the curve of the surface.
A big thanks to Trina for allowing me to take a peek at her works in progress! More information and examples of her past work can be found at trinamaysmithart.com.