New York

Dick Smith

Richard L. Feigen & Co

Dick Smith’s recent show at the Richard Feigen Gallery extends the range of his involvement with serial compositions within the context of geometrically shaped canvases. Smith’s shaping does not leave off at making his works complex conceptual forms to be seen only parallel to the wall, but rather they invariably have projections into space which emphasize all the specifics of their character qua objects. By this means Smith forcibly brings the viewer into a territory unmistakably the artist’s own: the pieces do not, as does so much kindred work, appear to be geometric abstract painting updated with some currently stylish “dimensional” touches, nor do they give the feeling of sculpture which has been wall-mounted somewhat against its inclination. Smith’s background as a painter, and his considered venture into three dimensional works, have obviated these pitfalls and the current work rings true as the confident product of an early maturity from which much may be expected.

All of the pieces in the show are serial. The elements in a given series range in number from three to five, and in size from the near-colossal to cabinet. The series deal with two main kinds of conceits. In one, the canvas shape implies a certain related form, usually a square (not actually present) that seems, from element to element in the series, to be invaded by another form of contrasting color and/or shape. The “invader shape” is not actually present, either. For example, in the first member of the Kodak series, a green square seemingly suffers an irruption of the corner of a projecting yellow square. In the second element, the yellow corner has penetrated as far as the center of the square, and lastly, the yellow form has taken up so much of the phantom square that it is finally revealed as a green chevron framing the leading edges of a squat yellow right triangle. The chevron (and that’s what it was all along) is seen as the remnant of the illusory original square. The three huge red members of Ring-a-ling-ling perform similar bamboozlements in “square” fields, with an expanding quadrant of a circular ring, rectangular in cross section, acting as intruder. These two works, along with the tobacco and green five-part Cookie Cutter, play agonistically with several colored forms which we only think we see: catching ourselves in this illusion, we ruthlessly explore the forms and colors that really are there, and which have led us into this balanced and Platonic mare’s nest.

The other string to Smith’s bow is the manipulation of separate forms, or rather identical elements, so that different juxtapositions of them present perplexingly different aspects. The three parts of Revolvall are each made up of two identical forms, two distinct shaped canvases. Each such blue “rectangle” is cut across diagonally by a pale yellow shape. The three alternate articulations of the two elements in each part of the work make up a square composition so different from its fellows that the identity of all the component forms in each case is very hard to accept; they just don’t look the same, and so we must go back, examining each very closely in order to be convinced.

Smith’s activities then, have to do with illusory possibilities of seemingly simple perceptions; what we do see makes us think we see something quite different. The faculty at work here is not imaginative fantasy but the distortion of direct perception by the will to conceptual regularity and order. The coloristic and formal subtleties of Smith’s rhythmic formulations enrich this enigmatic dichotomy very much indeed.

Dennis Adrian