20th October - 13th November 2010

Anne Smart:
Twelve Paintings


all works


Anne Smart: Twelve Paintings

Dramatic, striking, often initially overpowering, Anne Smart’s new paintings are at first difficult to assimilate. They force the viewer to work hard in the task set by abstract painting of moving toward and attempting to fully grasp a new visual reality, with all its attendant arrangements and implications of space, colour and substance.

The colour is bright and strangely glossy, with powerful sweeps from light to dark or skilful interlockings of the two. Though there are also multiple shifts in scale, the images described by colour are often pressed right up close to us. This does not seem quite the conventional display of surface common to much abstract painting, occasionally suggesting a dramatic close-up, a part selected and forcefully brought to our attention. This is especially the case when there is no hedging of the edge, when gestures and complexes of gestures, instead of being fastidiously attuned to the right-angles of the canvas, seem to expand beyond them. Within these edges there is little of the release of open space; instead of being empty, space is filled with stuff, found in colour.

The difficulty of assimilation generates a feeling of newness or unfamiliarity, and this is clearly a good thing. Above all, what drives this newness is the approach to the laying down of colour, the myriad ways in which marks are made and formed into structure. Smart has what amounts to a horror of the pre-conceived format, or even of known nameable shapes and she has remarked that if a shape is nameable – for example the given shapes of geometry which inhabit all manner of modern paintings – then it is for her not abstract. The paintings occupy a place between the expansive, immersive all-over-nature of a field and the definitively cohesive all-at-once nature of an image. Individual marks both form and break apart the suggested outline of larger complexes, and in the most exciting passages knit the surface together with an almost total independence from these complexes. The interweaving is at once loose and densely involved and give to the strangeness of her structures an unsettling certainty and lack of ambiguity.  

It is hard to say precisely which painters, if any, are referenced in Smart’s paintings, even though her structures seem deeply connected to the history of modern and abstract painting, though the presence of this inheritance never quite rises to the surface or impedes her progress. Tentatively, we could observe a marriage of the expansive fields of much post-war American painting with the more heavily worked surfaces and complex forms of most European painterly abstraction. This is a common combination amongst British painters who are Smart’s near contemporaries (Gouk and Pollock would be included here), many of whom look to the heavily physical and varied surfaces of the late works of Hofmann. But in Smart’s paintings, Europeans of the 40s and 50s - the informal, fractured gestural structures of some Taschistes or of Karl Appel and the Cobra group - are perhaps as apparent. There are also the abrupt edges found in collage, in which Peter Lanyon’s cut and stuck scraps of canvas (an approach that Smart began to use a few years ago and which she has now gradually abandoned), play a role. At the same time, these abrupt meetings suggest the full-frontal planes of Matisse, Heron and again Hofmann, but almost never with the fully bonded discrete areas the latter two in particular relied upon. But aren’t these gestural structures of Smart’s too firmly resolved, less random than the Taschistes, or, in a different manner, Hofmann? And don’t those fractured marks and planes or tongues of colour occasionally suggest a correspondence both to the violence of de Kooning and to the peeling walls of Clyfford Still? Or when, as is often the case, they suggest a description of a “seen” but fantastical thing, don’t they approach the sinister quasi-organic forms of someone as unlikely as Graham Sutherland? And what about the frequent moments when their structures are not fractured and urgent but are loose, lucid and elegantly resolved?

Establishing lines of influence, especially when none are immediately striking or clearly dominant, appears a rather futile exercise. But the difficulty in placing Smart’s painting perhaps is hopeful in itself. She seems to confidently occupy an isolated position, and suggests that good new things could come from this. Coming to painting in the late Seventies, having previously studied sculpture, Smart sits apart from both the now marginalised ‘mainstream’ of modernist abstraction, and from the painters who from the Eighties onward ironically picked over the tropes of modernism with hugely diminished and pictorially inconsequential returns. Perhaps, from outside of these two moments in painting’s recent history, Smart is able to see modernism as a set of potentially evolvable elements from which can be created untranslatable and cohesive complex physical and emotional pictorial realities, without being bound by modernism’s dogmas and exclusions and the limited avenues it eventually headed into. In the process of creating new abstraction, she is able to roam over its history without a sense of detachment.

Sam Cornish, 2010