Magazine article Artforum International

Josh Smith: Talks about Currents, 2008

Magazine article Artforum International

Josh Smith: Talks about Currents, 2008

Article excerpt

PAPER MIGHT RIP, paint might spill, or the game might be on television, but Josh Smith doesn't stop. The artist's fulgent pictures withstand all diversions and relentlessly multiply--their motifs, in his best-known series, traversing the loping letters of his own name and the gaudy facture of "expressionist" brushstrokes. If Smith previously took up the argot of abstraction, over the past year he has increasingly focused on the trappings of representation: renderings and photographs of things. But, as always, interruptions and deflections occur along the way. He often paints a leaf--a dried specimen that he picked up on a rural walk--faithfully registering its particular notches and fissures. Any number of things might happen next, but frequently he digitally photographs the painting and then enlarges and prints the image onto a grid of letter-size paper. These sheets might in turn be pasted into a collage and overlaid with posters or book covers he has made, or with newspapers or screen prints or new painterly marks. Each work at once depicts and replays his signature devices with an eidetic memory. They become a peculiar type of still life, with all the covert aggression of the genre--wresting objects, as it does, from the natural world into the pictorial one.

Smith, in fact, expands this mode of seizure into all manner of transference. He shows not only flora but his own gestural flourishes. He not only paints but presses, blots, laser-prints, glues, scans, photographs. Many of his new collage works are processed onto stacks and stacks of plywood boards. He rotates through these supports as if they were spools of data, amending them with his adhesions and inscriptions (he even inserts blank boards to enforce a mental pause). Sometimes the boards stick to one another, victims of their acquired residues; peeling them apart, the artist occasionally tears holes in the collage's surface layers, which he will simply leave and smooth down with the next round of glue. Such visual subtractions echo his iconic leaf's own gaps. They remind us of the loss entailed in every reproduction, even in every glance--and of the way in which, now, the camera-eye is our eye, and to figure is to capture. As Smith says, "Rather than take a picture ..., I just take it." This is why his images can collapse different resolutions and levels of sharpness, a collapse enacted each time the jagged contours of digitized blowups abut the comparatively high-res print of appropriated newspapers or the actual edges of torn paper. Or why they often present an insistently central shape, centrifugally contained by the framing edge, as if resisting dispersal by the lattice of pages it rests on. Within these tableaux, the serrated, pixelated perimeter or the gridded brushstroke looks normal and coherent. You take what you can get.

THE OPPOSITE OF ABSTRACTION--or, to say it another way, its complementary color--is realism. And realistic paintings are not that good. I respect them, but from my point of view, they're pictures. You look at a picture and you recognize what's in it, and then more than 50 percent of the joy is over--you're pretty much going downhill from there. Picasso, I know, said he abhorred abstraction--to him, it represented the absolute stupidity of art--but I think he seemed confused and a little jealous in saying so. Of course, I try not to think so harshly about realism. The fact is, though, that it is conservative to be a strictly realist painter: You do not have to be an exhibitionist the way you do with abstraction. Particularly with figurative painting, it is different. It is more of a personal, private thing. Just paint it and it is done.

I can just look at anything and paint it. Maybe not perfectly, but I can do it. I can make a really good painting. Last year, I started making paintings of fish that way. I thought it would be nice to have a big painting on the wall of a fish jumping. That is exciting. It makes you wonder why it is there. …

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