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Cary Smith Q&A
Two solo exhibitions, Gary Batty's drawing and Cary Smithís Splat, face off at Feature Inc. this month. Both involve some form of abstraction, delight in their materiality, have peculiar repetitive application of their medium, juggle ez and lite with the existential, and play with notions of the object.

Cary Smith was born in Puerto Rico in 1955 and currently lives in Hartford, CT. He attended Syracuse Abroad, Florence, Italy, Sir John Cass Art School, London, and in 1977 received his BFA from Syracuse University Art School, Syracuse, NY. In the late 80s and early 90s he was represented by the inspiring though short-lived Koury Wingate gallery, which is where I first saw his work. Between 1997 and 2002, Derek Eller Gallery, NY represented the artist. Cary Smith began exhibiting with Feature Inc. in 2007, and Splat is his second solo exhibition in the gallery.

Q&A 02.09.2011

.splat is the most thing-like shape i've ever seen you use. how did it develop?
The Splat paintings come directly out of my last body of work. I'm still painting the field around the shapes, using negative space to create the image. In those earlier paintings there were often biomorphic forms inside ovals or circles. There was also a meandering line, which along the inner edge and in the corners, acted as a hard edge geometry. Combined,  these elements inform the splat shape, and the unpainted strip along the edge.  I guess you could say the Splat shape has a "thing" like quality. The form is more "iconic" or singular than the earlier, more "diorama"-like paintings. For a good while now I've wanted to make non-representational paintings that suggest a narrative while remaining essentially abstract, if that's possible.  

.your color is very specific - is it out of the tube or mixed for each painting? are you particular about using or not using specific brands?
I've only been making the Splat paintings in cerulean blue, straight from the tube, or with a mixed pale yellow-green. Specific color, yes, but arrived at intuitively. In  these paintings I’ve been using water soluble oil paint. I’ve been thinning the paint to a great degree, to create a luminous stain which I can continue to work on over a good period of time. And, as I work very close to the surface, toxic thinner fumes are not an issue.

.monochromes: what about that limitation do you prefer?

For me monochrome is largely about creating a severity, and a kind of personality. I think personality is what we remember most. Plus, I'm interested in both sides of the modernist / post-modernist debate. Is it possible to make abstract paintings that address both sides?

.i don’t remember any overtly figurative references in your work - have there ever been any?
Yes, I've made figurative paintings in the past, and dream quite regularly about making painterly landscapes, portraits, or even gestural abstractions. I'm interested in all paintings that feel alive and are believable to me. You could say "real." Sometimes they are figurative, and sometimes they are not. I'm particularly interested in"territory." What seems to be relevant, original, reflective territory - territory worth mining, which is hard to find. I think that what you decide to paint is often beyond your conscious understanding.

.have you ever made a list of all the many things that this splat shape references?
Actually, I try not to think of references; they get in the way for me. Often others see specific things in my paintings, and that's fine, but when I start to see something or think of something particular, I will veer away.

.is there an orientation for the splat that doesn’t work for you?
Yes, but it would be hard to describe. For me it's intuitive. I want the paintings to have a believable energy, balance that is not predictable, and be visually varied from within. I've noticed that sometimes others see some of my paintings as upside down.  

.why not do this in many different colors?
Originally,  I started using the cerulean blue because I noticed when it was very thinned out, because of the nature of the paint, I could see the paint application brush marks quite clearly. It is the most intense, yet simultaneously quiet color I could find, that exposed the subtle humanity of the mark making. After a while I started to experiment with a light green with similar properties. As far as color in the paintings, just pale blue, and pale green for now. For  quite some time I've been attracted to groups of paintings that are all made with essentially the same color. Something is removed, but something is gained. The year before Yves Klein made his first show of ultramarine monochromes in 1957, he had a show of monochromes of various colors, which he came to believe were seen as "decorative" abstractions.

.your rigor is rather thorough; do you make notes, keep notes, research, explore before making work?
I test individual colors on scrap pieces of primed linen, pin them to the wall, then sit and look at them, waiting to understand what I'm seeing. I find that I have to sort of see them peripherally to understand what's there. I also make drawings as studies for the paintings. These are made slowly, generally in graphite. The shapes are adjusted, and adjusted until I can feel a sort of vibration. A very small change can bring about such an energy shift, which is something that I don't fully understand. When a shape feels right, I blow it up onto the linen exactly as it is. Then I carefully hand paint the paintings. This allows for an intuitive/prescribed back and forth that sets up interesting contradictions.

.is colored pencil new to you? the end result reads similarly to your paint application; what does colored pencil offer that paint doesn’t?
Yes, this past fall I started to make little red Splat drawings with colored pencils. The pencils’ leads were flaking off and getting ground into what were to be the white spaces. I like this accidental thing. I also like the waxy richness and inconsistency of the dense colored-pencil fields. Been playing with other colors recently. We'll see where it leads.

.despite being cool and cerebral, your work is also hot and emotional, if not sensual. there is a complexity in reading and appreciating them that makes for a range of differing, if not conflicted responses. did you consciously set up this multiplicity?
No,  I choose not to consciously set up a multiplicity. I'm a big believer in instinct. I feel my way forward. But what you describe is a very good way to get tension, energy, or life into painting. To use contradictions that somehow work together is one way to reflect what reality is. Ah yes, the human knot.

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