Tuesday, March 25, 2008
TEXTILE ARTIST SHINIQUE SMITH EXHIBIT AT THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY IN WASHINGTON DC
Really busy day today, I had to run to Brooklyn to get two jars of Formula #1 Green Life Formula from Queen Afua. I have to start my mornings with a table spoon full of this health drink in fruit juice with a banana and sometimes added strawberries, depending on the price of strawberries. I get a real good energy boost from this this mixed drink.
Watkins Health Food Store on 125th St. in Harlem always seems to be out of stock of this of the Green Life Formula, so I have to travel all the way to Brooklyn on the local C train to Kingston and Jamaica Ave to get a few bottles.
Coming back into Manhattan from Brooklyn, I stopped off in China Town to bargain grocery shop and get some salmon steaks, bananas and strawberries which were $1.00 a basket (they are so ripe, I have to eat some and freeze the rest).
I walked over to Whole Foods on 14th St. to get my food samples and purchase a large bottle of lemon aid, I walked over to Trader Joes down the block to get some Trader Joe's discount vitamins. I needed to go to Pratts Manhattan Computer Lab to start on the website for the exhibit (RE)POSSESSED.
A couple of months ago, I was at a Sunday private gallery viewing of Artist Shinique Smith’s wonderful artwork. I think she is doing some really interesting and important 2-3D soft sculptural sketching & exploring of her art work, there is a very natural feel to the way that she has evolved into and chosen her (found objects) materials, the compositions that she comes up with are very well balanced in time, experience, new thought, statement and they are visually appealing.
Her work is like a High Brow Journey, into a Romantic Point of View of the inside of the Hood, from a Sistah that passed through in the last few years. I love the chances that she takes with the beautiful large strokes of calligraphy on the walls, combined with the assembled soft sculptured found textiles and objects, it's like she is scripting in a unknown tongue. I think the way that she sculpts is very FREEING...
Check out this article below about this artist who is BLOWING-UP all over the Fine Art World.
Shinique Smith is as fine a mixture of street and salon as any artist could be.
For decades, her family lived in the genteel Baltimore neighborhood of Edmondson Village. Except that by the time Smith was growing up, she says, that gentility was lost and by now it's "totally the 'hood."
She was born to a teenage single mom who left Shinique (rhymes with "Clinique") behind to be brought up by her grandmother. This young mother, however, had "abandoned" her daughter to study fashion in New York and Paris, then came back to push culture and education on her kid.
Smith went to storied public schools in Baltimore: the Baltimore School of the Arts and later Frederick Douglass High. Between those two schools, she got arrested, for what she calls "ridiculous" graffiti crimes, and was bounced to Southwestern High, where metal detectors were de rigueur. Smith says she lucked out when her failing transcript from Southwestern was lost on its way to Frederick Douglass. Douglass sent Smith off with a scholarship to the Maryland Institute College of Art.
The old Brooklyn building Smith now lives in has its rougher edges, and there are crumbling projects within a few blocks. But the scruffy drugstore downstairs has been splendidly rehabbed as a trendy trattoria. Smith's apartment on the second floor has lovely hardwood floors, a marble fireplace and its original 1930s black-and-white bathroom -- and could use a second mortgage's worth of renovations. On a recent visit, it was also full to bursting with all the trash and scrap and found objects Smith uses to make art.
And now, as a kind of cap to all those contrasts, at 37 Smith has made it into a show at the august National Portrait Gallery in Washington, home to pictures by Gilbert Stuart, John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt. Yet the exhibition she's in, "Recognize! Hip-Hop and Contemporary Portraiture," includes spray-painted murals by real street artists as well as concert photos and oil portraits of hip-hop's greatest stars, alongside Smith's own manic agglomeration of rap ephemera and found objects. (The show continues through Oct. 26.)
All along, this has been what Smith has had to reckon with: A complex negotiation between the "high" culture of the art world, for so long steeped in whiteness, and the black "street" culture of the city she grew up in.
She is proud of her brief flirtation with graffiti as a member of TWC, The Welfare Crew. "For a minute, I was the only girl writer in Baltimore," she says. But press her for details about her teenage arrest, and she just laughs it off as youthful foolishness, long since scrubbed from her record.
"My work isn't graffiti," she insists, explaining that the swirling letter forms on the walls in her Portrait Gallery piece and on canvas in other recent work, owe as much to her study of Japanese calligraphy in college as to her long-ago painting in alleys. At the Portrait Gallery, her letters' swoops are done in Japanese sumi ink rather than Krylon spray.
Anyway, the unusually explicit "street" themes in Smith's Portrait Gallery installation, titled "No Thief to Blame," partly stem from the circumstances of this new work's birth. The installation was commissioned as a response to a new poem by Nikki Giovanni, the 64-year-old Godmother of Rap, that was also created for the hip-hop show. The poem is called "It's Not a Just Situation: Though We Just Can't Keep Crying About It (For the Hip-Hop Nation That Brings Us Such Exciting Art)," and it's broadcast over speakers and printed on one wall in the gallery Smith's work shares with it.
Giovanni's verses inspired Smith to include the following in her assemblage, which cascades from one corner of the room: A torn Tupac Shakur T-shirt, collaged photos of dead hip-hoppers such as Aaliyah, Jam Master Jay and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, images of roses torn from a movie poster for "Youth Without Youth," a cardboard-cutout butterfly, a plastic "Heavyweight Wrestling" trophy belt, gold plastic beading hanging from the ceiling, swirls of illegible writing done right on the walllengths of red ribbon, blue shoelace and yellow caution tape stretched across a window embrasure as well as a pair of high-heel pink mules that sit in the middle of the mess.
For the Portrait Gallery's more traditional visitors, all this street-inspired art, with its street-sourced supplies, is bound to come across as absolutely up-to-date. But the installation's street-smart maker sees it differently. Smith feels the piece is full of "nostalgia and romance for the past" -- for the era when she, and American culture at large, first began to feel hip-hop's impact.
Smith cites a friend's interpretation of the installation as the kind of sentimental Wall of Fame a teenage girl might mount in her bedroom, pinning up the pop-culture faces that mean the most to her. That teenager may have more in common with the spray-painting young Shinique than with the mature artist who now has her master's degree and was recently taken on by the rich and prestigious Yvon Lambert gallery.
Smith notes links between her roots in graffiti and the Japanese calligraphy she's come to more recently: Both are about marks made in a single swoop of spontaneity, as well as the impossibility of erasure. Both are governed by strict traditions that set clear bounds for any innovation. But both also have parallels in the grand, Dead White Male history of Western art that also matters deeply to Smith -- in the revolutionary sketches of Leonardo and Michelangelo, in abstract expressionism, maybe also in the subtle use of black and white and gesture by more recent figures such as Cy Twombly and Sol LeWitt.
Smith says that she is black, a black artist and a black woman artist: "I think in this country, you can't not see yourself as an African American, or as a woman."
She also insists, however, that blackness is not, or not usually, her "primary subject."
"I see myself as an artist -- other people see me as an African-American artist." By which she means that however much she may be an artist who is black, her work isn't simply "black art."
Even her explicitly black-themed piece in Washington is a kind of extract from an ongoing project that casts its net more widely. In what's on its way to becoming what she calls a "big requiem" for our times, Smith has been amassing mementos of all the famous figures who have died during her life. Those dead figures include Tupac and the other hip-hop artists in "No Thief to Blame," but also Lady Di and Kurt Cobain.
Her recent work has often consisted of baled scrap fabric that comments, at least obliquely, on excess consumption and the global trade in castoffs from the West. One such textile bundle is in "Unmonumental," the prestigious show that launched the reopened New Museum in New York. It fits in fine with other global art on display there, and only hints at a background with a can of spray paint on the streets of Baltimore.