FINALLY . . . Tony Smith on Tony Smith
It had been a long damn day. I mean, I made vast quantities of peach marmalade, gutted 12 varieties of tomato for seed for next year's garden and had just settled in for a well-deserved drink when the doorbell rang -- and behold, the postman with a book from someone named T. Smith on the Avenues. What could this be?
Ninety minutes and 80 pages later I came up for air, drink forgotten, fully engrossed by a self-published coffee table tome frankly entitled: "f--k you--FINALLY . . . a book about me." Put together by artist and U. of U. Professor Emeritus of Art Frank Anthony Smith, it truly is effing fascinating.
His story begins well before "Alvin Gittins taught me to see, and Doug Snow taught me to dream," though that particular insight into the artist as a young man may be worth the price of admission for Tony Smith aficionados ($38 at Sam Weller’s, Phillips Gallery, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake Art Center, and Ken Sanders Rare Books).
Smith was a “real pain in the ass” kid whose typical Catholic boyhood in Mormon country was interrupted by rheumatic fever when he was 10, which gave him enough bored and lonely time to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, listen to radio comedies and dramas, and develop the kind of imagination that led to his first drawing and the realization that he could thus create a world of his own design. He discusses grade school and high school under the tutelage of nuns,|1| getting laid or not, dropping acid, and serving as a medic in the Army, which perhaps shaped his view of this country that, “We’ve certainly won the war on low self-esteem.”
And there’s much, much more for fans. Smith’s idea of beauty, favorite artists, writers, movies, books, whiskey, and TV shows are revealed -- artistically, of course. And at some point you realize that golf and cigars are not metaphors for anything phallic but rather a much-favored pastime (he’s hit a hole in one and cigars, especially Padron 4000, maduro, or Cuban Partagas no. 4, are something he actually smokes). He talks about working on the first Star Trek movie and getting a ticket near Springville in his hippie days for “littering” when he thought a fence in a field was much improved when hung with one of his paintings.|2|
And there is, of course, the art. Liberated from painting some five years ago by retirement, Smith’s work now is almost entirely drawn with markers. He describes drawing as a game he plays with himself, first setting up parameters like a crazy outline or tough angles then going in with markers “and trying to make the whole thing feel dimensional and bumpy. In the process I discover imagery like guns, heads, genitalia, dirt holes, crosses, knives, oil lamps, faces, people doing weird things, it’s all like a kind of wakeful dreaming.”|3| These are incredible images and deliver their own sort of wakeful dream when looked at patiently. In short, they’re a trip.
It it [yes, he needed an editor on this project] wonderful to just play and let things surprise you. The weight and shape of a black dancing with the edge of the paper, the rhythms of colored and black alternating lines, the direction shapes can move like elevation lines on a map always amazes me. However I work, whether with form or a subject, I always enjoy most the illusion of volume on a flat page. Someone said once that on my tombstone it would say . . . “HE LIKED TO MAKE THINGS LOOK ROUND”
It is disappointing that there isn’t more of Smith’s earlier art in this book, but that’s been done before and he’s firmly focused on the here and now and the hereafter.
Several people have said this book is “just like Tony.”|4| It’s irreverent, wicked, sly, laugh-out-loud funny, a little consumed with mortality issues, a lot consumed with family, and an absorbing read about the development of an artist and a man. It’s not for kids, unless they were brought up in Sweden, or for your maiden aunt unless she lives there. But if you read this 15 Bytes e-zine, it’s probably for you.
Are You What You Wear?
Zuzanna Audette's Reflections on Venus
To pay the bills most fine artists turn to commercial work of some sort, in or outside the arts. Photographer Zuzanna Audette, a native of Poland who earned a BFA at Pratt Institute and an MFA in Photography at the University of Utah, is a fine-art photographer who pays her bills with fashion and portraiture work, for both editorial and advertising clients. Her glossy glamour shots, however, are never far from her artistic interest in exploring personal identity.
"The examination of personal identity inevitably leads to questions - the most common of which is what enables the perpetuation of the self," Audette writes. "Who am I? Am I myself because of my past, my present, or what I hope for in my future? Or does my identity emerge from my personal relationships with others, or through my personal environment and belongings? If I wake up at a different time, in a different place, could I wake up a different person?"
She might also add, "If I go out in different clothes, am I a different person?"
Oscar Wilde is frequently quoted as having said, "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months" -- this coming from a dandy of a man who loved to be photographed in costume. The most-well known shot of the writer has him with his shoulder length hair, in a fur-collared jacket, holding his walking stick and a large ring on his left pinky. Is his statement, then, a contradictory bon mot thrown about to agitate and excite?
The actual quote goes like this: ". . . what is a fashion? From the artistic point of view, it is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months," and the aesthetics of the matter were not Wilde's principal interest. Writing in Woman's World in 1887, Wilde the feminist was making the point that as women began to take their place as equals in society, and began to join men in the workforce, fashions would have to change because "with the exception of M. Felix's charming tea-gowns, and a few English tailor-made costumes, there is not a single form of really fashionable dress that can be worn without a certain amount of absolute misery to the wearer." He also referred to Victorian fashion as barbarous and unhygienic.
At the core of Wilde's article is the idea that clothing is used to define roles, and the constricting female attire of the 19th-century leisure class left to a woman only very restricted roles. Wilde concluded his article with the prediction that, "It is more than probable, however, that the dress of the twentieth century will emphasise distinctions of occupation, not distinctions of sex."
Women still wear skirts, though they also wear jeans, and you can still buy a corset or gown with a score of tie-ups, but these purchases are usually a matter of choice for special occasions. That is not to say that fashion is not still used to define roles. It is. There is just much more flexibility in the definitions.
Audette's photographs have always explored the role of space and costume in establishing feminine identity. During her MFA studies at the University of Utah Audette was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship for her published thesis series 'a woman's place,' a collection of works that examined women's roles as defined by space and relationship (a review of the exhibit appeared in these pages).
Audette's current body of work, Reflections on Venus, continues this exploration by examining both costume and space. Now on view at The Photo Collective, Reflections on Venus is an expansion exhibition from Deconstructing Venus, a group show premiering at Art Meets Fashion 2011 (see our article in the October 2011 edition). In Reflections on Venus Audette pairs specific clothing designs, from the six fashion designers featured at AMF 2011, within a specific environment, a Salt Lake City location known as "The Pleasure Palace." The images in the series create narratives and character studies exploring classical visual and literary interpretations of the goddess Venus and Audette's personal ideology on femininity, sexuality, love, and beauty.