Anj Smith

The eerie, luminous, compact portraits and landscapes of London-based artist Anj Smith are exercises in extravagant meticulousness. The magic of her laboriously depicted figures and motifs, however, derives in large part from the contrast Smith creates in surrounding areas of loamy, thickly applied impasto. This formal incongruence – between the intricate and the inchoate, between a jewel-like glow and rough scratchings, between filigree and mire – is crucial to Smith’s work. It suggests that she seeks to navigate a murky psychological space far beyond the reach of her virtuosic single-bristle brush. In her world, certainty is just a vestige of the past, with everything today existing in a fragile, constantly shifting instability.

A thematic corollary to such general elusiveness is the gender ambiguity in many of Smith’s portraits. In ‘The Moon, Like a Flower’, the delicate features of a sitter with long blonde hair might equally be described as feminine or effeminate, and are interrupted by sprouting facial hair that could indicate male pubescence. In ‘The Sentry’, the viewer’s eye sweeps down from a lipsticked mouth and intricate headpiece of feathers and fossils, to a pair of massive masculine thighs and a flower-covered codpiece that protects the mystery of the figure’s identity. Both isolated and on display, these subjects maintain their distance from the viewer but are far from idle: Smith’s subjects deliberately frustrate norms of composure, decorum and self-possession. Half naked and at the same time elaborately attired, their fantastical ensembles simultaneously camouflage and affirm individuality.

Organic and inorganic objects alike tend to snake, coil, twine, twist, and weave, teasing the eye with tendrils, creepers, roots, and veins. By collapsing the traditional genres of ‘portrait’ and ‘landscape’, Smith suggests a territory in which neither one is adequate to represent contemporary experience. Time is often fragmented in Smith’s scenes, which appear simultaneously retroactive and futuristic but neither firmly of the past or the present. In ‘Fruits Of The Forest’, fossils seem to decay into base-matter faster than the ‘fruits’ of such fashion sensations as sequined fabric. While the artist is rendering a bleak and inhospitable environment, she suggests possibility: The makeshift structures she depicts may be cobbled together from wire, cigarette butts and twigs, but between them gauzy tangles of exquisite fabric stretch into new configurations.

A solo exhibition of Anj Smith's work entitled 'The Flowering of Phantoms' will be on display at Hauser & Wirth New York, 69th Street, between 15 January – 23 February 2013.


Text by Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith and a conversation with the artist by Alison Gingeras

104 pages
40 colour plates
24 cm x 33 cm
Printed paper hardcover with UV varnish highlight

Publication date: February 2013

€55.00 £45.00 $70.00

ISBN 9781907946370