Untitled self-portrait

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin / Pitkin Studio
Paint on wood
48 x 32 inches
Collection of
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

During the approximately fifteen years Smith is documented to have produced paintings her style developed in subtle ways. Until the early 1980s, she most often used white backgrounds and dramatic figure-ground relationships, producing images that would have definitely flagged down the attention of passing motorists. Later, however, she began to develop paintings out of variously colored grounds that she blocked into broadly geometric fields of color. Despite the many shouted juxtapositions of colors, Smith’s palette most astounds when manipulating muted contrasts. If the early paintings (i.e., from c. 1975 to 1985) used black descriptively to outline figures or to fill in their contours, later works used black (or whichever color was the darkest in any composition) as a mere foil for coaxing out the possibilities of secondary colors or for upending the anticipated relationships between nominally “positive” and nominally “negative” spaces. When Smith grouped colors of comparable intensity, such as red and yellow, or brown, blue, and green, the overall sensation of movement becomes visually haunting, like rippled water or the unstable play of deep shadows; colors’ identities converge and foreground-background distinctions cast aside their comprehensibility. (Many of these works turn nearly monochromatic in black and white reproductions.)