Shinique Smith Brings Her Vibrant Paintings and Sculptures to Nashville’s Frist Center

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Highly expressive paintings and sculptures by New York-based artist Shinique Smith will be on view in the Frist Center’s exhibition Wonder and Rainbows from October 9, 2015, through January 10, 2016. Ms. Smith, who was featured in the Frist Center’s 2013 presentation of 30 Americans, is celebrated for bringing dynamic energy to her work and employing common found objects within bold compositions.

Shinique Smith. By the Light, 2013. Ink, acrylic, fabric, and paper collage on canvas over wood panel. Photo by Zack Balber. Courtesy Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz. © Shinique Smith

Shinique Smith. By the Light, 2013.
Ink, acrylic, fabric, and paper collage on canvas over wood panel. Photo by Zack Balber. Courtesy Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz. © Shinique Smith

Ms. Smith’s practice reflects influences as diverse as dance, fashion, Eastern philosophies, graffiti, Japanese calligraphy, poetry, lyrics, and childhood wonder. “Smith’s kaleidoscopic sculptures and paintings are graceful yet forceful combinations of many different materials and ideas,” says Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez. “The works are meant to convey her personal history as well as a greater sense of cultural concern and connectivity.” By bringing together items both cherished and cast-off from multiple sources, each packed with its own history and aspects of the previous owner’s identity, Ms. Smith creates a compelling cross-section of time, place, and meaning.

In the Frist Center’s Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery, Ms. Smith will debut a new sculptural work of cut wood and collage, Open Word Lattice: Black and Rainbow, which corresponds to a site-specific wall painting in the central space. Ms. Smith’s engaging artworks and installations often use the ceiling and the floor to create what she calls an immersive “aura of enchantment.”

The other galleries will contain approximately ten vibrant collage-based paintings in which seemingly insignificant items such as artificial flowers, butterfly decals, and old toys intertwine with the artist’s energetic brushwork and fragments of colorful textiles. They will also showcase four of her well-known hanging “bundle” sculptures of clothing and accessories bound together with knotted cords and ribbon. Many of Ms. Smith’s works contain keepsakes and cast-off objects – a comment on the vast excess and waste in American consumerist society – but also a demonstration of how personal possessions can inspire memories and shape our identity as individuals and as a society. One bundle pays homage to Jimi Hendrix by incorporating a T-shirt Ms. Smith herself owned; the shirt displays the cover of Hendrix’s second album, Axis: Bold as Love, a visual reference to a Hindu deity. The title of this plush sculpture, Tongues became flowers, was inspired by a poem from the thirteenth-century Persian mystic poet Rumi, whose writings have been a source for several of her works.

Color, particularly the entire spectrum, is a focus of this exhibition and reflects Ms. Smith’s interest not only in nature, but also in whimsy and childhood wonder. Like the painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky, Ms. Smith believes that each hue can have a particular psychological impact and reflect an individual’s inner state. A highlight of Wonder and Rainbows will be a new large-scaled wall piece of individual panels of color corresponding to the rainbow and composed entirely of ribbon and cloth. “More than a pretty decorative motif, rainbows can represent unrestrained dreams, harmony after turbulent times, and diversity,” notes Ms. Delmez.

Ms. Smith earned international attention in the groundbreaking 2005 exhibition Frequency, a survey of emerging artists of African descent at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and in 2007’s Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century, the exhibition that inaugurated the new home of New York’s New Museum. Her work was also featured in 30 Americans, a nationally touring exhibition from the Rubell Family Collection based in Miami that surveyed works by emerging and established African American artists working since the mid-1970s.

The artist’s early years of writing graffiti in Baltimore, alongside her classical training at the Baltimore High School for the Arts, where she studied with the likes of Jada Pinkett Smith, Josh Charles, and Tupac, remain evident in her exuberant calligraphic strokes, which she intermingles with materials from popular culture and her personal life. While in her Master of Fine Arts program at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Ms. Smith explored the relationship between graffiti and Japanese calligraphy as influencers on her hand-style. She sees a link between the two forms, noting that “In both you can’t back up, you must have a confident hand when you put your brush to the surface…There’s no erasing.”

The exhibition Ink, Silk, and Gold: Islamic Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will be concurrently on view at the Frist Center and will display numerous examples of calligraphic work, including Qur’an manuscripts. Drawing a connection between the two shows, Ms. Delmez says, “Smith has been interested in the expressive and meditative qualities of writing for many years. The lyrical lines found in her work today – whether in thick black ink or bold waves of color – have a similar sense of energy and elegance that is seen in many of the Islamic texts.”

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