Stemming from a lifelong fascination with rare and vintage toys and collectibles, Kent-born artist, Stuart Smith, creates immaculately rendered oil paintings of tiny objects.
Earlier this year, Stuart undertook his first solo show at Bird’s Gallery in Melbourne and recently chatted with Art Pharmacy about his practice, passions and upcoming projects.
Congratulations on your first solo exhibition. Tell us a bit about the show and how you got involved with the gallery.
I wanted to learn more about the business side of art, so I planned, marketed and promoted my own event from start to finish. It was a roller-coaster experience, but I gained a valuable understanding of the gallery system and am so much more prepared for whatever comes next.
Where does your interest in collectibles stem from?
Since childhood, objects in public and private collections have held an undeniable power over my imagination, and have also had an emotional and nostalgic connection.
As a child I hoarded figurines; built vast armies; created entire universes and battlefields shaped out of duvets and blankets, across the bedroom floor.
I have fond memories of my father’s collection of matchbox cars and the heartbreak caused when he sold them in hard times.
Later my mother’s cabinet of curiosities, an eclectic mix of objects all valued below $2, became a source of much amusement and inspiration.
Do you find there is something particularly appealing about models and collectibles, or are you similarly drawn to their real-size counterparts?
I love the way small objects draw you in, demand closer inspection and fuel imagination. Holding a model in hand, examining all sides, making ideas tangible.
The idea of driving vintage cars and motorbike thrills me, but I’m happier admiring them from a distance.
Your work exudes a appreciation for the pieces you paint. Are there certain qualities that attract you to these objects?
The combination of image and text really appeals to my senses, using simple shapes, strong flat colour and clean lines.
Equally, trying to capture the beauty in imperfection, especially off set printing on commercial products where photographic and graphic are merged.
I try to choose pieces that tell a story with nothing but their material presence.
Where do you source the items you paint?
I am totally reliant on the generous nature of collectors who are happy to indulge my whims and give access to their precious collections.
The slot cars and boxes come from one collection in particular. In exchange for a book jacket design I have unrestricted access to an inspiring collection and his vast knowledge.
I understand you trained formally in still-life oil painting. Are there any unique techniques you employ, or any particular challenges you face working with the medium?
With drying medium I can work consecutive days on painting applying thin layers of oil with minor transitions in tone, colour and shape. The discipline, structure and routine are for me a cathartic experience and a necessary part of life.
Any raised areas can create harsh lines that spoil a paintings illusion so before starting a new layer the surface is carefully shaved with a razor blade. One slip and it's all over!
Is there a particular direction you see your work taking, or would like it to take?
I am a product of my environment! When squeezed into a small workspace, I produce work on an intimate and personal scale. It’s been a while since I’ve let rip on a large canvas in a studio.
Over time the language and subjects I paint have shifted away from traditional still-life motifs to simpler, yet infinitely more playful objects. However, with one foot in the past items with a subverted meaning or altered history remain endlessly fascinating.
I’d like to develop my work to have a universal appeal and meaning, moving away from objects of personal significance.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m keen to take up a residency somewhere in Australia and start working towards a second show.
Words: Lauren Castino