Critics’ Picks

Paul Anthony Smith, Kings, 2018, unique picotage on  inkjet print with spray paint mounted on museum board, 50 x 39 4/5".

Paul Anthony Smith, Kings, 2018, unique picotage on inkjet print with spray paint mounted on museum board, 50 x 39 4/5".

Los Angeles

Paul Anthony Smith

Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
2685 South La Cienega Blvd.
September 8–October 13, 2018

From a distance, Paul Anthony Smith’s “picotage” pieces, 2012–, resemble movie stills interrupted by television static. Up close, they look like pictures dotted with tiny dabs of white paint. Smith creates these small, textured imperfections by carefully picking apart his mounted photographs with a ceramic needle, exposing their white undersides. These sculptural marks form layers of neatly patterned geometric shapes that mask some parts of his photographs, manipulating the pictures’ depths and conveying a sense of movement. Like old-fashioned lenticular billboards that display a different image depending on the viewing angle, Smith’s works require you to shift your position to read the whole picture.

Within the gaps of these crafted designs are glimpses of public spaces in Jamaica, Brooklyn, and Puerto Rico where black people are socializing, grieving, and being. In Kings, 2018, for example, a diamond picotage pattern weaves through a scene of two men drinking and smoking together outside. One of them, standing, begins to reach over the man sitting next to him. They’re both looking down toward something we cannot quite make out, but their gazes reach the space adjacent to the bent knee of someone else sitting beside them, whose body is otherwise cut out of the frame. The carved overlay serves as a fence, blocking you from encroaching upon a private moment or, perhaps, redacting the memory. These edits challenge the tendency to assume that a photograph necessarily represents reality while pointing out that there can be unknown complexities and intricacies in the story behind a picture.

Smith’s silk screen series “Gray Area,” 2014–, contains a similar style of manipulation, as he collages and reprints pictures, transforming them into entirely new images. Both series evoke the nostalgia of found, stained photographs, but Smith’s picotage pieces are less sentimental than constructive—they rearrange, invert, and obstruct memory and identity, revealing the malleability and frailness of both.