Since the 1970s Susan Smith has been collecting fragments from her outside world—plaster slabs, chunks of corrugated siding riddled with graffiti, shards of mirror, pieces of graying drywall, and Art Deco edifices—and then pairing them with oil-on-canvas modules to compose dense yet delicate geometric pieces that seem to probe the internal and external sensory life.
Smith’s show “Splinters,” at Junior Projects, features eight of her more recent works. The matchbox-size gallery frames the petite works with distinct intimacy. The paintings’ simple compositions eloquently yield to nuance—to lyrical brushstrokes and Rothko-esque underpainting.
Largely centered on two color palettes—the orthodox red, yellow, blue, and a more understated whiteness—the show highlights Smith’s formal concerns. This treatment of color felt like a platform allowing the artist freedom to explore surface, texture, and a poetics of time and space with rigor and vitality.
One standout, Mirrors/Drape/Canvas (2012), was a petite monochrome (largely cream and mirror) shaped like a medicine cabinet. Despite its humble form, the work imparts a perspicuous commentary on time. It is composed of three elements: a found mirror, canvas wrapped in Gypsona painted with acrylic, and a panel on which the other two modules are mounted. The wrapped canvas drapery has a two-fold reference: it resembles a stucco slab excised from an Art Deco construction, and the creamy white evokes Classicism and the Italian Renaissance, establishing a frumpy kinship with Michelangelo’s Pieta and Callimachus’s Venus. This desperate attempt to recall an inaccessible era imbued the work with a sense of loss, augmented by the fact that the module itself was extracted from a prior construction.
However, this melancholy was counterbalanced by an optimism of adaptation: next to the embodiment of loss stood the present moment—the mirror, adjacent to the drapery, reflected both the viewer and the brick wall behind. The disparate pieces (drapery, mirror, panel, me) were invited—or maybe obliged—to be integrated, finding a new identity and harmony.