'Living in the flat land', Leslie Smith III

Artist: Leslie Smith III
Dates: January 24th to March 13th, 2015
Open PDF

Living In The Flat Land
Smith’s new paintings explore the confines of space, relinquishing conventional concepts of flatness and depth. In response to his broader thematic ideas, Smith’s shaped canvases duplicate and tessellate from one painting to the next. They infer narrative by representing the nuances found in everyday human experiences – they push, pull and contort space for the purpose of challenging the way pictorial space is experienced. Vivir en la tierra plana (Living In The Flat Land) presents a selection of abstractions questioning the viewer’s role. Contrary to the minimalist and post painterly vernacular appropriated by Smith, these paintings investigate the relative preferences of whether to look at or to glimpse into his painted spaces. His new paintings provide experiences that are fluid in their observation, while simultaneously evoking pictorial space and physical presence. Smith finds depth within the flat land.

Paintings in conflict: Leslie Smith’s contemporary abstractions.
Leah Kolb, Associated Curator, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
The death knell for painting sounded by Douglas Crimp in 1981 was less a true indication of the medium’s demise than of a crisis in discourse. Crimp admonished painting for its inward looking focus, which, he argued, had rendered it incapable of functioning in the essential capacity of critique. Three years later, Arthur Danto made an even bolder statement, declaring the end of art itself, by which he meant the end of western art’s narrative of linear progress. Sensing a changed art-world context, Danto and Crimp, among other theorists, signaled the emergence of a new era of contemporary art thinking and making. This change initiated a culture of critique that remains a relevant challenge to many contemporary artists, particularly painters, who are obligated to respect their medium’s legacy while also recognizing its diminished status.

While some choose to sidestep the formidable baggage associated with painting and painted abstraction, Leslie Smith III confronts this history and its attendant dogmas. With a graduate degree from the acclaimed Yale University School of Art, Smith admits that the entrenched discourse surrounding his practice is ingrained in his thinking, that -it will always be a part of the mix.- He freely assimilates these conversations, but creates works that collapse the medium’s traditional divisions. In doing so, he seems to suggest that contemporary abstract painting can critically engage its rich history while also transcending its ideological limitations; that the socalled death of art was really just a way to establish new conditions for its inevitable survival. This practice results in work that does not echo the past, but instead remains strongly rooted in and relevant to contemporary life.
All of Smith’s paintings from 2013 sit on similarly shaped canvases, each with an edge that swells outwards as if attempting to break away from the stretcher’s underlying structure. The irregular shape of the canvases is an appropriate complement to an art world where the practice of painting is unstructured, no longer bound by historical traditions or predetermined categories.

The visual dualities of Smith’s paintings reinforce the narrative content of human discord. In other words, his paintings are both about conflict and in conflict. Ideas in paint reflect ideas about paint, resulting in works that are intrinsically tied to their existence as paintings. In the case of Leslie Smith III, the paintings reflect a certain sensibility of the present, draw from the uneasy social dynamics of human relationships, and function as a point of departure for a broader discussion about the uncertainty surrounding the practice of contemporary abstract painting.

Leslie Smith III was born 1985 in Maryland and grew up in metropolitan Washington, DC, graduated with a BFA degree in Painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2007, and obtained an MFA degree in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University in 2009. Since then his work has been included in many exhibitions in the US, such as his first solo Museum exhibition “I Dream Too Much” at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison, Wisconsin in 2013; the Valérie Cassel Oliver curated exhibition “Black in the Abstract, Part 2: Soft Curves/Hard Edges” at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in Houston, Texas, in 2014; and his recent solo exhibition “As I Remembered” at beta pictoris gallery in Birmingham, Alabama. His work is found in numerous private collections in the US, and he is the recipient of many Honors and Awards, such as the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts Scholarship in 2003, and the 2009 Al Held Affiliate Fellowship for the American Academy in Rome. “Living in the flat land” is his first solo exhibition in Spain.