Kenneth Paul Lesko Cleveland Art Gallery


Gregory Lowell Smith

Paintings + Drawings + Sculpture

Gregory Lowell Smith Contemporary Art Trompe L'oeil Paintings Drawings Sculpture


Gregory Lowell Smith Contemporary Art Trompe L'oeil Paintings Drawings Sculpture



Gregory Lowell Smith lives and works in the mountains of North Carolina. His work combines collage and trompe l'oeil with elements of surrealism.

Smith's art is self-referential on a number of levels and gives the viewer a glimpse into his conscious and subconscious mind. Themes from his personal life appear as Native American artifacts, guitars, cigarettes, and coffee, as well as literary references to writers like James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut. His recurring dream imagery appears in images of tornadoes and nightterrors, represented by spiked, spherical objects with a quiet sense of menace.

At first glance, some of Smith's collage work is successful on the level of a graphic presentation. It employs a strong sense of design to which both newcomers and experienced art enthusiasts alike respond-it's intuitive, but it's also more than that. In the tradition of trompe l'oeil, Smith means to fool the eye of the viewer. These pieces have a gravity that pull one in closer for further examination, and through that examination, other levels are revealed. In some cases, he means the viewer to see something that isn't there, like the masking tape that holds up a Polaroid photograph in Art for Art's Sake, where both the Polaroid and the masking tape that holds it are painted. In other cases, he means for the viewer to miss something at first glance that is there, as in Smith's Brick Pencil Study. At first glance, it appears to be a simple collage of segregated sectors, forms and colors, but on closer examination, one sees that a vertical dividing line on the left side of the painting is actually a line of colored pencils laid end to end, and the various color swatches to the left are colors that were achieved with the painted colored pencils. Of course, the color swatches are not colored pencil, but rather acrylic paint, as are the colored pencils themselves, and this reveals another dimension to Smith's work; a sense of humor and playfulness.

If Smith's two-dimensional works fool the eye and draw one in for a closer examination, his sculptures are so masterfully executed to fool the eye that they run the risk of being dismissed at first glance. People often scoff at these sculptures as if to say "This is what passes for contemporary art these days?" Given the work that sometimes shows up in contemporary galleries, that attitude is understandable, but those who scoff and walk away, never realize that the works of art they had hoped to see were right there in front of them--they just didn't see it. Those with more curious or patient natures might linger, and that's when an odd sense of transformation occurs. Dismissal or indifference turns to doubt, then slowly to awe.

Some observant viewers might notice that the seemingly smoked and extinguished cigarettes in Smith's Ashtray do not read Marlboro or Winston, but Sad and Lie. For others the trigger is the tag on the pedestal. The tag next to the ashtray does not read, "smoked and extinguished filtered cigarettes and ashes in ashtray," but rather "carved and painted wood." It's always the doubt that comes first-a feeling of uncertainty. The viewer is suddenly confronted with something that is contrary to his or her own perception--there is a tension, released by amusement, sometimes laughter, but then quiet study and a sense of wonder; people tend to speak in softer voices.

This is even more apparent in Smith's Paintbox. Each tube of paint, each glass bottle, the pallet knife, and an assortment of brushes are all carved and painted sculptures of amazing detail. While everyone who truly sees this accomplished creation appreciates it for the true work of art that it is, it's other artists who seem to appreciate it the most. After discussions of "This looks just like my pallet knife" or "these really do look like used brushes," their talk usually turns to what's involved in the creation of the piece. They quietly nod to each other talking about dedication to craft, and the amount of skill required. They talk about how incredibly labor intensive such work must be, and what would motivate an artist to put so much work into achieving this illusion. Some talk about a higher aesthetic vision or standard, while others use words like obsessive or compulsive, but another word is frequently used, and is immediately agreed upon; and that word is Reverence.