Thomas Solomon Gallery is pleased to announce a solo exhibition of early works by Los Angeles artist Alexis Smith. The exhibition will include mixed media collages, sculpture, and an important installation piece.
Alexis Smith was born Patricia Anne Smith and took the name Alexis Smith from the movie actress. Starting in 1966, she studied at The University of California, Irvine with artists Craig Kaufman, Vija Celmins and Robert Irwin. Through Irwin, she learned how ideas in art making influence personal investigations, and with Celmins how inquiries become more spiritual. Both Irwin and Celmins were role models for Smith, and they later became peers. Smith graduated from UC Irvine in 1970.
Smith’s artworks have a wide range of both female and male voices. Some of her early works are filtered through the voice of Jorge Luis Borges, and are layered with metaphorical objects and iconography. Fashioned into her art, there is an ironic tension between traditional female images and Smith’s imaginings of who she would have to become if she chose conventional role types. Reconciling the conflict between two roles—one of being successful and the other of being in love—is most present and poignant in her early works.
Reoccurring subjects of snakes, cards, stars, landscapes, and western backdrops were always central to her work as was her use of double meanings, which changed with each context shift. Playing cards were symbols of fate and destiny. Images of stars represented the heavens (and guiding stars), as well as a word describing celebrities. Smith’s search for meaning throughout this early work was clarified in narratives that were both personal and collective. Stories hinged to a series of meanings, other people’s objects and words put together to form new art objects, found materials placed together in ways that connected physical things to the stories they told, all became part of her trademark. Smith revealed how the same impulses that generate language and stories can also generate art objects.
Everything is related and formulates new meaning in her art. She twists and tweaks the perception of the inanimate everyday object and the physical universe it occupies with a similar tongue-in-cheek (yet serious) style that intellectuals like Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, John Baldsessari and Allen Ruppersberg employ. In her early work, she routinely used collage—a modernist devise with post-war Pop overlays that served as an extension of early 20th Century ideas. Smith’s interest in people and deconstruction played out in a diversity of objects that supplied meaning within the art spaces they occupied. Her pop and literary influences include American visionaries like Walt Whitman, Isadora Duncan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Edison, John Dos Passos, Jack Kerouac, and George Gershwin. The courage, originality, and vision of these American icons influenced Smith's art. The American Dream and Hollywood ‘s idea of transformation through pure fantasy also impacted her work.
Smith is a product of Southern California. Neither a painter nor sculptor, her hybrid art systems weave collage and installation to form seamless provocative spaces. This exhibition provides a context in which to view some of her cinematic themes. Silver Screen (1978), The Magic Mountain (1978), and Masculine and Feminine (1975/76) each provide images with literature typed out on cinematic paper so to resemble a script format. Born after World War II, Smith’s work reflects the movement, progress, and pathos of life in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. It mirrors the growth of consumerism, the nature of Hollywood, the effects of car culture, and the ever-growing popular culture that influences all of us.