This is 5 Questions. Each week, we send five questions to an artist featured in Under the Radar, our weekly email highlighting the best art on the ArtSlant network. This week we seek answers from Yvette Kaiser Smith.
What are you trying to communicate with your work?
I make wall-based geometric abstractions by inventing systems for visualizing values of numbers, specifically of sequences from the infinite numbers pi and e, by utilizing grids and repetition of simple geometric shapes. Numbers are the direct source of abstraction.
The majority of my past works are wall-based, geometric, crocheted fiberglass constructions. In 1996, when these things began, they were based on identity narratives. Number sequences made their way in as a design necessity to deal with space and time issues. Then I realized that numbers are in all aspects of identity. Math is inseparable from nature, from us; it is in- and outside of us, in census-based social structures and in a multitude of personal ID numbers.
Since early 2007, all my work has been number-generated. In mid-2016, I transitioned from crocheted fiberglass to laser-cut acrylic sheet. The only conscious source of abstraction now are the numbers. Regardless, identity aspects are inherent in the physical properties of the materials that I use. Both the manually created crocheted fiberglass and the machine-cut acrylic sheet, speak to identity in their translucency, in the whispers of color and shadow projected onto walls, and that they create a more complex identity with layers and overlaps of a basic pattern language.
So, this is the baggage the current work carries. But, at the end of the day, it’s all about the math. The materials are cool, but it is the math structure, the math, that makes the work balanced and interesting and opens doors for innovation. It is the math that is beautiful. Math structures are everywhere, inside us and outside of us. And special numbers (e.g., pi, e, Pascal’s Triangle, prime numbers) are truly special.
Etude from pi: 51413, 2013, Crocheted fiberglass with polyester resin, 42 x 38 x 10 inches.
What is an artist’s responsibility?
To say something. To communicate. To communicate clearly. To communicate specifically. Visual art is a language. If a poet bangs on a keyboard randomly, without thought or purpose, no matter how sparse the thought or purpose, the poem will be unreadable, or it will read like gibberish. Granted, gibberish can be entertaining but, gibberish can’t teach or enlighten or inform or connect with the reader on any level. A work of art should be experienced. One cannot experience gibberish.
Making art is a privilege which we should embrace with continued learning, questioning, and pushing of boundaries. As a viewer, standing in front of a new work of art, I want to see or experience something new: I want to be moved, to be surprised, to be informed, to be educated.
Show us the greatest thing you ever made (art or not)?
I can’t label any one thing as the greatest I ever made. That is still to come, I hope. Not sure if the greatest but the most heroic, and also significant, studio run was in preparation for a 2008 solo of crocheted fiberglass works for Alfedena Gallery in Chicago. Sadly, Alfedena no longer exists.
This image from the show, photographed by James Prinz, shows Identity Sequence e Black, 72 x 92 x 32 inches, and Identity Sequence RW pi, 88 x 112 x 6 inches, both crocheted fiberglass with polyester resin. Also in the show were three more large works: a 10 x 10 foot, a 6 x 17 foot, a 7 x 18 foot, and two smaller works. All this was created within a period of 14 months. The crocheted fiberglass process is seriously labor intensive and for the most part, physically unpleasant. I look back at this and honestly can’t believe I did all that work in that amount of time and survived. This body of work is the first group fully based on number sequences. I made several conceptual and formal breakthroughs in this show.
Tell us about a work you want to make but never will:
There is no space in my brain for “I want but never will.” Rather, I still foolishly hold on to a handful of “I wants,” determined that someday I will get caught up, someday I will have time, even as years fly by. In undergrad, 30 years ago (yikes!), I focused on drawing, sculpture, and photography. I was convinced that as I went forward, all three would be embedded in my studio practice. Not long after MFA school, I started crocheting fiberglass and the drawings disappeared. The photography didn’t even get that far. My thing is abstract, geometric, minimal, math-based.
My “I want, but” is: I want to recover my drawing hand in drawing the figure from observation; not one drawing a year but a sustained effort to reconnect my hand to my brain in that direct way. This year I have the opportunity to work with digital photographic images in focused way, for a themed show, bridged into the laser-cut acrylic. I have lots of new things going on as it is.
My “I want, but” is: I want to get reacquainted with the darkroom and alternative photographic processes; I want to work with pinhole cameras.
Wide Ruled: e 2154249, 2017, Laser-cut and engraved acrylic, nylon spacers, capped hardware. Three panels: fluorescent blue, clear, clear with COPIC marker. 23.5 x 23 x 1.5 inches
Who are three artists we should know but probably don’t?
Tom Torluemke: Tom is an accomplished, prolific artist, working for over 30 years. If you work in Chicago, you will most likely recognize his name. Tom is fully footed in both the representational and the abstract. His imagination in visual storytelling and inventiveness with color and pattern have no limits. Tom reminds me of that stereotypical image of a mad inventor that works constantly in his little workshop always coming up with new creations. His latest invention is a series of inlaid paper collages of his partner Linda.
Fidencio Fifield-Perez: A brilliant young artist and DACA recipient, Fidencio builds large, beautiful, soulful works and installations that come from his experience of living undocumented after he was smuggled into the US at age seven. His mixed-media works involve intricate paper-cutting and reference maps and fences. His recent series of potted plants painted on used envelopes are compelling, beautifully painted poems.
Kendall Davis: Kendall and I shared time during undergrad 30 years ago when she was a painter and photographer. In grad school and years after, she focused on painting. As a fulltime educator and mom of two, her work became more about photography. From the outside, it seemed that as her life demands shifted, she transitioned into a different medium and always kept working. A few years back, Kendall started working with clay. Her clay resonates the same soulful, poetic beauty I remember in her paintings. As Kendall begins to experiment with documentation, some of her photographic images are as compelling as the objects, while others begin to identify themselves as a quirky photographic series.
—The ArtSlant Team
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(Image at top: Codex: pi 1021, 2016, Laser-cut 1/8 inch acrylic sheet, capped hardware, nylon spacers. 92.5 x 134.5 x 1.5 inches)