Figures Flow Along Swirling Streams of Color in Samantha Keely Smith’s Vibrant Abstract Landscapes
In vibrant oil paintings evocative of roiling oceans or atmospheric vistas, Samantha Keely Smith relies on confident, swift strokes to guide the composition. Hovering between abstraction and depictions of landscapes (previously), tonal contrasts and complementary colors emphasize dramatic movements suggestive of crashing waves or storms. “All of my work explores the idea that the line between our conscious and unconscious (experiences) is often blurry and that occasionally we are able the straddle both sides at once,” she tells Colossal.
Smith’s recent work has evolved into a looser, more freeform style that has taught her the value of experimentation or going with the flow. “Most importantly, I have given myself permission to completely fail occasionally and not feel bad about it,” she says. “I will sometimes pull a canvas off the stretcher and throw it away. In the past, I would fight to the bitter end to try to save something that just wasn’t working, which was ultimately a waste of my time and effort.”
Along with the more relaxed and confident approach, Smith now incorporates figures in her works. As an extension of her ongoing series Imagined Landscapes, she explores themes relating to presence and the subconscious in the form of bodies floating along a current that appear partially submerged. “Like a radio station coming in and out of tune, they exist as much in our reality as they do in that ‘other’ world,” she says, sharing that the addition of figures her pieces tapped into her own and loved ones’ health challenges.
Smith examines the emotional and mental toll of caring for her parents, who both suffered from prolonged illnesses. Now 54, she explores the fuzzy state between consciousness and “going under,” reflecting on being hospitalized for four months with a life-threatening illness at age 21. The painful experience instilled an appreciation for the fragility of life and the immense capacity humans have to feel hope. “The existential and the personal are intertwined in my work,” she says. “I believe that through art, we have the opportunity to accentuate our commonalities and to bring people together by sharing these personal experiences that are, at the same time, universal experiences.”
Find more of Smith’s work on her website, and follow updates on Instagram.
Share this story
Art Documentary History
‘Beyond the Visible,’ a Documentary Illuminating the Life and Work of Hilma af Klint, Is Free to Stream
Released in 2020, an acclaimed documentary serves as a corrective to the art historical record. Beyond the Visible spotlights the life and work of the pioneering Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), an obscure figure during her lifetime whose colorful abstract works predate those of famed male artists like Vasily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. Directed by Halina Dyrschka, the feature-length documentary centers on af Klint’s groundbreaking practice and the spiritual, scientific, and natural phenomena that inspired her work.
Beyond the Visible is currently available to stream for free on Kino Lorber’s YouTube, which is a trove of art history and culture. To learn more about af Klint’s legacy and view her expansive oeuvre, pick up The Complete Catalogue Raisonné: Volumes I-VII. (via Open Culture)
Share this story
Minimal Strokes Applied with a Broom Form Jose Lerma’s Tactile Portraits
To create his thick, abstract portraits, Chicago-based artist Jose Lerma trades his brush for hefty, commercial brooms that follow the lines of preliminary sketches. “The process of these paintings is laborious. I make my own paint and fabricate my supports. The material is heavy and unwieldy,” he tells Colossal. “It is done in one shot because it dries very fast, so there is a minimal margin for mistakes.”
Lerma’s impasto works shown here have evolved from his original series of Paint Portraits, which revealed the general outline of a figure without any distinctive details. Wide swaths trace the length of the subject’s hair or neck, leaving ridges around the perimeter and a solid gob of pigment at the end of each stroke. His forward-facing portraits tend to split the figure in half by using complementary shades of the same color to mirror each side of a face.
With a background in social sciences, history, and law, much of Lerma’s earlier pieces revolved around translating research into absurd, childlike installations and more immersive projects. “In recent works, maybe due to returning to my home in Puerto Rico and a much more relaxed non-academic setting, I have eliminated my reliance on history and research and now concentrate on just making portraits,” he shares. “It’s an approachable, tactile, and disarming aesthetic, but the absurdity remains perhaps in the excessive materiality.”
Now, Lerma “works in reverse” and begins with a specific image that he reduces to the most minimal markings. “It’s a large work painted in the manner of a small work, and I think that has the psychological effect of making the viewer feel small, more like a child,” he says.
Living and working between Puerto Rico and Chicago, where he teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Lerma currently has paintings on view in a number of shows: he’s at Yusto/Giner in Málaga through March 24 and part of the traveling LatinXAmerican exhibition. In April, he’ll be showing with Nino Mier Gallery at Expo Chicago and in May at Galeria Diablo Rosso in Panama. Until then, see more of his works on Instagram.
Share this story
Hand-Dyed Paper Seeds Flow Through Sculptural Landscapes and Portraits by Ilhwa Kim
South Korean artist Ilhwa Kim describes her meditative sculptural works as analogous to living architecture, “a live plant or the tree in (an) urban or natural space.” Comprised of carefully placed components in parallel lines and dense fields, Kim’s pieces materialize through innumerable rolled paper seeds that form organic, abstract landscapes and portraits—read about the artist’s painstaking process for crafting the individual elements previously on Colossal.
In each work, Kim arranges an assortment of depths, colors, and textures: she tucks visible folds among more upright segments and installs thin, sweeping lines evocative of a single brushstroke through vast expanses of white. “When moving from painting to sculpture, I wanted to do everything I was able to use in painting; even brush strokes and all the wide color paints,” she tells Colossal. “But I’d like my works to have a far stronger life presence in the physical surroundings as a sculpture.”
Because the dimension of each seed varies, the fluctuating compositions shift in color and texture depending on the perspective of the viewer, animating the scenes with light and shadow. Kim frequently photographs her pieces on sidewalks and in public places, which she shares on Instagram, to present the lively works within similarly bustling environments, and you can see the sculptures in person this October at HOFA Gallery.
Share this story
Concentric Vessels Nest Within Larger Forms in Matthew Chambers’ Perplexing Ceramic Sculptures
At once minimal and endlessly confounding, the elegant ceramic vessels that Matthew Chambers (previously) creates are precisely scaled iterations of the same shape. His hypnotic sculptures are comprised of individual, wheel-thrown pieces in varying sizes that are embedded within a larger form. Each abstract work is unique in color and position, sometimes displaying single monochromatic rings at incongruent angles or striped colors flush in alignment.
In a note to Colossal, Chambers says his most recent pieces are an experiment in allowing the inner pattern to pop from the outer vessel. “The process is essentially the reverse of how most of my other forms are made, and it’s still very much in the early stages of working it out,” he says. “I’ve also started making some upright vessel forms where the circles twist around the outside of the form from top to bottom, but again these are still very much in the early stages.”
Chambers, who’s based in St. Lawrence on the Isle of Wight, has amassed an extensive archive in the last few years, which you can dive into on his site and Instagram. If you’re in London., you can see some of his pieces on view now at Alveston Fine Art and this February with Cavaliero Finn at Collect Art Fair. He’ll also show works this coming July at Cornwall’s New Craftsman Gallery.
Share this story
Parallel Fields of Color Align in Daniel Mullen’s Precise Mathematical Paintings
What are the visual impacts of converging planes of color? This question is central to Scottish artist Daniel Mullen’s most recent series of paintings, which displays stacks of thin, rectangular sheets in exacting, abstract structures. “I am looking more at Rothko’s body of work and studying the vibrations of color and the almost alchemic effect that his work has on the sense,” the Rotterdam-based artist tells Colossal.
Comprised of meticulous angles and lines on linen, the acrylic paintings are studies of precision, geometry, and perception, allowing each element to collide in a mathematically aligned composition. Mullen’s process involves measuring and taping the individual planes before laying the slight, translucent marks. “In this way, the work is built up slowly over time, incorporating irregularities, brush strokes, and bleeding paint into a work that breathes, floats, and expands through the energy of color,” he says, explaining further:
The forms might seem to reference glass panels or other architectural configurations but that is only the scaffolding for the viewer to locate themselves within. Beyond that initial shape is an attempt to move towards a perception of ekstasis; or the vibrant energy of the universe, imaginary and unmapped. One that questions the symbols of power and place in today’s fast-paced, heavily digitized environments.
The pieces shown here follow Mullen’s collaborative synesthesia series that translates non-visual senses to the canvas—he and artist Lucy Cordes Engelman will be working more on this concept during a residency in upstate New York early next year. You can follow updates to that body of work and explore more of his recent paintings on Instagram.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.