San Francisco

Hassel Smith

Dilexi Gallery

Any student of Smith’s oeuvre over the last two decades will certainly gain enormous insight into the working habits of the artist from his recent exhibits at the Worth Ryder Gallery in Berkeley and at this gallery. Smith has for the last two years painted a number of very broad, whimsical, figurative pictures which have been included with his more widely known abstractions in one-man shows in London and Los Angeles, and in group exhibits in the Bay area. The two latest one-man exhibitions contain the figure paintings solely. The concentration of attention on these works does not necessarily mean Smith has given up the abstractions. What it does mean is Smith is willing to acknowledge the fact that he has built up two large and separate bodies of work over the last two years.

Smith brings off these pictures with the same snappy gusto he uses to whip the abstractions into shape. The interesting aspects of these figure paintings, leaving aside the obvious content difference, is the complete similarity of attitude they share with the abstractions. The same flat, sharply-defined brush strokes, smacked down and then hooked away, define space in both modes. The same absolutely straight, seemingly ruled, narrow line that suddenly animates itself. These common characteristics are shared by both styles, but originate in the Abstract-Expressionist canvas. Smith’s social realist pre-war style has been exhumed and enriched by the years of fast-brush abstract painting. Another Abstract-Expressionist tendency which has carried over to the figure paintings is hard to define, but is roughly an attitude toward or about painting which keeps the problem of finishing a work open at all times. Smith seems to share this attitude with many other Abstract-Expressionist artists and indeed practices it on a number of the works shown in Berkeley by changing and revising whole areas of the picture before re-showing them at Dilexi Gallery. An excellent example is the work called “Bubble Car,” where the whole attitude of the female dancing in front of the tiny auto has been shifted, as has the foliage in the background; indeed the picture has been virtually re-painted. Others in the Berkeley exhibit have suffered the same fate. The danger is that Smith’s will-to-revise borders on a kind of scientific relativity that in the end will destroy the spontaneity he wishes to achieve.

James Monte