Geoffrey Todd Smith has been staking quite a claim in the Chicago art scene with his obsessive and abstract work. In this investigation Smith talks of his process, thoughts on beauty, and how depressing his studio practice seems when presented in written form. Smith has another upcoming solo exhibition at Western Exhibitions in September.
Geoffrey, you’ve talked about your work as being a type of representation or expression of your memories and interests. Do these personal experiences reveal themselves and influence you while you work on these intensely repetitive pieces? And if so, why are they all delicate and beautiful?
I used to answer the question of content within my abstractions by drawing anecdotal parallels to more tangible experiences and cultural references. I guess I just felt that I needed to have more of a reason for an abstraction to exist if I was going to have the viewers full attention. I was concerned that they would be dismissed for being merely pretty or decorative. The trouble is surface beauty is a big part of what I’m after. They are “delicate and beautiful” because I want them to be seductive and I want the viewer to desire them. When I say desire I don’t mean strictly to buy them but rather to feel them deeply and develop an attraction.
I have been thinking about how much abstract work really lends itself to a viewer. Formally speaking, shape, form, and color can be seen as a universal language. This universal language transforms into symbols once cultural signifiers become attached. Is this something you have to deal with in your work? For example some of your work may be taken to resemble eastern textiles by a viewer.
Sure. Referential baggage comes along with every decision I make and with every visual connection the viewer finds. I think that’s part of the life of the painting. It doesn’t have to be one thing. For me it can be a love letter to a forcefield and to somebody else it might be a chip off the dome of heaven. Ultimately it’s a pile of colors and shapes that have been organized. Whatever helps you sleep…
Your work is obviously very process oriented. When I look at the work, I think of the commitment and concentration it takes to produce a piece of yours. Since these are so intensely hand made, is the process or journey where the “Art” really exists? If so, would they then become appealing as an artifact left over from hours of you drawing, thinking, listening, etc.
I’m fetishizing abstract beauty so the time spent making it is important but no more than the artifact. The painting is the object of desire built of the intense desire to see it through the process.
Could you talk a bit about your studio environment and practice?
It’s not very glamorous. I share a studio with Ben Stone and Mindy Rose Shwartz. I have a poorly lit room within the large industrial space we share on Grand Ave. near Pulaski in Chicago. I try to treat it like a real job and spend 30-40 hours a week in the studio. I usually shoot for a 9-5 schedule. I also, drive around a lot for my job and often bring a small painting or drawing to work on in my free time. While I work I usually listen to music or sports radio. I drink one coffee and usually a bottle of water. I prefer to turn my phone off. I mostly sit at a set of break room style plastic tables. My chair is metal and cold. This is really depressing to see in written form.
You have an exhibition coming up at Western Exhibitions this September. In 2007 you had an exhibition at Western Exhibitions then in 2009 you had a double exhibition of new works. What is the history between you and Western Exhibitions? How did you find each other?
Scott Speh used to write some art criticism before he started Western Exhibitions. He reviewed a Dungeons and Dragons influenced group show called Realm of the Lair that was curated Ben Stone and Siebren Versteeg. I drew a knight smiling at a four headed dragon. The title of the drawing was Yeah, But Do You Have Four Cocks? Scott wrote about the title in the review and I sold a few drawings because someone read it. I was so happy I gave him the drawing as a thank you. A few years later I had a show at this huge space called Butcher Shop/Dogmatic. I made something like 60 or 70 drawings for it. Scott saw the show and liked how ambitious it was. He bought a drawing for almost nothing and told me my prices were too low. We’ve been working together ever since.
Finally are you up to anything that we should look out for this summer?
I have a solo show in Chicago at Western Exhibitions in September. The summer will be spent making the work for that show and starting some new paintings for Luis De Jesus Los Angeles at the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013.