Over the course of the past twenty-five years, the painter Cary Smith has engaged in
a restless, but controlled, pursuit of abstraction. Smith’s work has been consistently categorized by a particular poetic logic, rigorous craft, and a beautiful, but not gratuitous, color sense. Working in the wake of the freedom presented by the collapse of Modernism’s rigid dogmas, the artist’s work vacillates between geometric and biomorphic abstraction and is witness to a range of subtle (and often surprising) influences, including the aesthetics of eighteenth and nineteenth century New England and the visual vocabulary found in Mid-Century art and design.
Your Eyes They Turn Me focuses on work completed since 2008, including Smith’s Splats, radiating works that utilize a splash-like motif, and Wonder Wheels, optically active, geometric grids that exhibit a music-like tonality. The exhibition’s title, appropriated from a song by Radiohead, suggests optical attraction, desire, and movement—all things that a viewer encounters in the artist’s work.
Included in this exhibition are eighteen of the artist’s small-scale works on paper, including drawn versions of Splats, Straight Lines, Ovals, and Gray Blocks. Smith’s drawings are often preparatory to his paintings, giving the artist the advantage of refining the shape and placement of forms on the picture plane prior to committing them to canvas. Carefully rendered with pencil, these works substitute disciplined mark making for the exactitude of color that the artist brings to his paintings. Where Smith’s craftsmanship often drops into the background behind the color in the paintings, his flawless technique makes the experience of the drawings first and foremost one of precision; the careful, gradated application of graphite speaks of a patience that is almost painful. Smith’s work, however, is not about obsession, but about care and devotion to a process where ideally both the medium and the means are transcended.
In 1963, the art historian and curator William Rubin described Ellsworth Kelly’s painting as exhibiting “a peculiarly American combination of the hedonistic and the puritanical,” an observation that one could rightly apply to Smith’s work. At the heart of Smith’s practice is an exuberant form of control, a state of direct emotional participation and knowledge that is disassociated from any specific instance, yet speaks clearly of real experience. “I don’t want the viewer to understand my paintings,” Smith has stated, “but I want them to make sense.”
Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director.
Cary Smith was born in 1955 in Puerto Rico; he lives in Farmington, Connecticut, and works in Collinsville, Connecticut.
This exhibition has been generously supported, in part, by Cynthia and Stuart Smith.