OPENINGS| LUCIEN SMITH’S CAMOUFLAGE PAINTINGS IN “TIGRIS” AT SKARSTEDT GALLERY, NYC
The resurgence of camouflage as a major theme in modern fashion has been a long-developing trend that’s only intensified in recent years with the vintage vietnam “tiger camo” pattern being the most revered of the innumerable designs, especially in the world of streetwear. Bringing this trend to the formalized art world is 25-year-old Brooklyn-based artist Lucien Smith whose new show of 11 large scale tiger camo paintings titled Tigris opened in NYC at Skarstedt Gallery last week.
In Tigris, Smith explores themes inspired by the recollection of the first work of art that strongly impacted him—Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa—a poster reproduction of which hung on the wall of his classroom. His new works speak to the concealment, or camouflage, of memories. In Freudian terms, Smith’s paintings explore the idea of a ‘screen memory’—a memory unconsciously used to repress an associated event, camouflaging its deeper content by displacement. Smith’s work often investigates nostalgia and how the imagination can create false memories and convolute events of the past. As with much of Smith’s previous work, this new series explores memories of the natural world through the process of abstraction.
Named after an ancient body of water, the works in Tigris convey an organic sensibility. Smith’s process of pouring paint onto the canvas is reminiscent of pouring water, evoking the movement of rivers and rain. Smith often takes inspiration from nature, as represented in the fluid, flowing style of his latest paintings. His layered washes of paint and loose brushstrokes possess a particularly painterly feel. Also referencing the “Tiger Stripe” camouflage patterns developed by the South Vietnamese for their soldiers in the 1960s, Smith utilizes multilayered die-cut stencils scanned from a United States military sourcebook, recreating authentic military patterns through color-field painting techniques.
Drawing comparisons to the work of his Abstract Expressionist predecessors, Tigris is demonstrative of Smith’s awareness of art historical past, yet interpreted through his own filter. Smith’s latest body of work recalls Andy Warhol’s camouflage paintings and the veil paintings of Morris Louis. As David Rimanelli writes in the catalogue essay, “through this cumulative blending of signifiers from Asian, American, and European histories, Smith’s work embeds culturally and psychologically loaded topics within a formal language of painting and design.” Smith’s work harkens back to previous generations, representing canonical ideas through a contemporary lens.
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