With 21 paintings produced over a three-year period, Anj Smith’s latest exhibition as Hauser & Wirth London is her largest yet. It is also her most psychologically motivated and probing. An artist who seeks to celebrate the medium of painting, Smith (b1978) sees the figure as a device on which to hang her concerns and her explorations of social mores. Her paintings – deeply layered to create an intense colour and incredible luminosity – deal with issues of liminality, androgyny, language, art history and zoology, among many others. Monkeys frolic with shattered Ming vases; a cigarette butt is revered as equal to a Van Cleef jewel; deep, dark eyes stare out from hollow sockets.
Smith’s works collapse the genres of still life, landscape and portraiture, freely referencing those who have gone before her: from 17th-century Dutch vanitas painters to so-called outsider artists Richard Dadd and Adolf Wölfli. While acknowledging the importance of recognising where she is coming from and taking responsibility for her references, Smith is also at pains to make work that is of our time. The intricate detail, painted with single-hair brushes – stubble on a figure’s cheek, a moth hidden in the stonework, translucent veins beneath the skin – is like a reward system, whereby the viewer benefits from each further minute spent studying the work and experiences a different painting, depending on the perspective from which it is approached. Smith’s work can only be fully appreciated in the flesh and this is a valiant display well worth spending some time with.
Anj Smith: Phosphor on the Palms
Hauser & Wirth, South Gallery, London
22 September – 21 November 2015
Interview by ANNA McNAY
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY