Patrick Smith Reconfigures His Art

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New York-based animator/artist Patrick Smith of Blend Films makes short films, directs for TV series like MTV's Downtown and Daria, and his commercials work includes spots for clients like Burger King, Visa and Pfizer. But Smith's unusual fine-art side is coming to the fore in a show that opens tonight, Sept. 18, and runs through Oct. 16 at New York gallery CVZ Contemporary.

Small Configuration 2
Small Configuration 2
Smith's painting career goes back some years to his guerrilla street art project called "Columns"—hand-painted plywood pieces that were bolted, generally quite illegally, to signposts. The "Columns" featured Smith's trademark visual motif, interlocking climbing figures, which is also the basis of some of his animation. Now the style, under the general title of "Configurations," has gotten a full-blown acrylic/enamel on canvas treatment, which "builds upon the idea of the original street art, but the paintings introduce a more complex theme that includes the use of scale and some props," he says. "I was previously simply building a larger structure out of figures, all of them working toward a common goal. This has expanded to a range of emotions within the characters that make up the larger configurations. While some of them appear to be working in unity, others are taking advantage to pull ahead or to just relax. And beyond the difference in color, the characters have a range of scale, although they're still all participating in the structure. I see the whole design as a very humanistic representation of society."

Large Configuration 3
Large Configuration 3
The transition from the street to the gallery also got a boost from the fact that the street pieces "were disappearing too fast—sometimes the same day," Smith recalls. "I've met several collectors who got their 'Columns' off the street, and I have mixed feelings about that, but it's the nature of street art." However, he adds, "When CVZ began showing them several years ago within a more formal setting, to my surprise it worked well—it's tough to put work on the street for free when a gallery can sell them for $2,500 apiece, but I'm still planning to put out more. I'll just have to rethink the tamper-proof installation method."

Mask Panel 1
Mask Panel 1
What about this new "Mask" painting, which will be seen at the show? "It's a bit of a preview into my next body of work, including my next film," says Smith. "I'm finding it difficult to separate animation from painting—the ideas extend over both mediums." The painting, Smith explains, ties into his interest in masks and anonymous phone calls, which is part of a poster project he recently unveiled. See his blog for details.

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