Paintings, Spring 1998

Mitchel Smith, "Guacamole Flats" 1997, Acrylic on Canvas 21"x29"
Private collection

In today's cultural climate, it's easy to be overlooked if you make abstract art. This is particularly so if you if you paint, as Mitchel Smith does, in a manner that is distilled and unadorned and close to the essentials of painting. In fact it's doubly risky for a painter like Smith, because distillation and paring down have characterized much of the highest level of the painting of the recent past - the work of Jules Olitski and of John Griefen spring to mind. A painter like Smith, who shares a similar artistic temperament, can easily run the risk of looking derivative. Smith long ago decided to take this risk if doing so would allow him to get closer to his own strength and originality. And herein lies his ambition. It's easier to succumb to novelty and the attention that it can bring to your art than it is to stay the course, follow your nature and see where that leads. In Smith's case it's lead to maturity and to art that is challenging in the most rigorous sense.

Smith's pictures requires the viewer to apply attention and discrimination, but then all art does when you get right down to it. Most of his paintings are free-form and brushy with a dry surface and a rough, graceless quality that can be off-putting at first. They have a delayed punch, though, that leaves a lasting and often profound impression. Their originality often lies in their colour which tends to be layered and seems to float in an atmospheric way that contrasts oddly with the frank physicality of their surfaces. Textural incidents - surface ridges and passages of sweeping brushstrokes - sit behind the colour, evidence of an accumulative process that is apparently part of a long struggle. This seems part of their character, too - this sense that they've been wrestled with and with great effort brought to life.

Russell Bingham
February, 1998
A selection of recent works:
Mitchel Smith Curriculum Vitae.
Several of these paintings are available for purchase. If you are interested, please contact Mitchel Smith at or Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art (403)266-1972

Last modified 98/03/23.
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