Brighton Smith's paintings add a new twist to the traditional still life. He paints the objects of our desires. His canvases are filled with the types of things that we choose to define our lives. He paints books, fashion, cocktails. They are symbols of the good life, signs of what we want and what we have achieved.
His paintings revolve around books. Books are mass-produced but the titles we select to keep on our night stand are deeply personal choices. We are what we read. We define ourselves by the ideas we embrace and assimilate. The volumes he chooses to include run the gamut from coffee-table art books to novels, from classics of literature to mixology, from high art to fine fashion. His collections are often witty meetings of styles and cultural messages.
Smith favors things with a tinge of nostalgia. Most of his art books celebrate the era of classic modernism, when art was defined by elegant modernist abstraction and vintage Pop Art. They reflect the Golden Age of our culture. But that culture is still evolving and his subject matter also includes the latest styles and fashion trends. They capture our recollections of a better past as well as our aspirations for a more promising future.
His style is a blend of realism and expressionism. He enlivens inert objects with bold, assertive brushwork. His paint crackles with energy, making his still lifes surge and move as if they were alive. Straight edges bend slightly; geometry yields to a subjective touch. His objects seem vital and active—like something that lives deeply in our desires or memory.
This is Smith’s second one-person exhibition at Skidmore Contemporary Art. His latest series, the "Bookend" paintings, represent a growth and a variation on the previous vertical "Stacks" from 2015.
Brighton Smith’s Stacks are meditations on the deep connections in our society between art and fashion. His typical format features piles of coffee table books on the history of art, style and culture. They are usually topped by an iconic fashion statement—a high heeled shoe by a famed designer such as Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, or Christian Louboutin. The juxtapositions are witty, provocative and capture the universal appeal of fascinating art and extraordinary design.
He began painting the stacks as an evolution from his previous fashion paintings which featured groups of folded shirts and hats. Having a deep interest in art history, it was natural for him to turn to his personal library of art books. As he began to arrange his compositions he sought clever juxtapositions of subjects and themes. Some stacks are about the wide allure of a certain style or movement in culture. Others are a blend, reflecting a voracious interest in the overwhelming variety of our shared visual culture.
Smith refers to his designer shoes as “toppers.” When searching for an object to complete his stacks of books, he looked into his wife’s closet and found the perfect solution. Designer shoes are fashion's most popular—and often most expensive—accessory. While many women complain of discomfort, they still swoon over and covet the most beautiful examples by our best designers. These objects have attained a special status in our culture and often seem magically transcendent. Like the star on a Christmas tree, these iconic shoes function as a quasi-religious tribute to fashion, style, and art.
Although his imagery comes from a vast storehouse of contemporary culture, Smith adds his own personal touch and perspective. He recently said, “There is an odd contrast between where I find my sources: the brand new shiny shoes found on Rodeo Dr. or the Scottsdale Fashion Center Mall and rare, out-of-print volumes from dimly lit bookstores. Sometimes there is not a perfect book or a pair of shoes that seems to fit the idea or composition, so I invent, change color, and write new titles to make a composition work better or express more clearly the content of the grouping.”
In a way each stack functions as a personal and cultural portrait. They reflect our interests, our desires, our passions. Although the object themselves are static and inert, they are enlivened by the rich cultural associations they suggest. Beautiful as well as keenly intelligent, each stack reflects knowledge, taste and the passions of individuals in today’s society. Look closely at each stack. You will probably see yourself.