Etude de la Vénus de Vienne II
Study of Vénus de Vienne II
24-carat goldpoint on mineral paper
Etude de la Vénus de Vienne III
Study of Vénus de Vienne III
24-carat goldpoint and silverpoint on mineral paper
Etude de la Vénus de Vienne I
Study of Vénus de Vienne
In this suite of three sketches done from observation of the ICAA’s Venus de Vienne, Smith works through the inherent difficulty of the sculpture. The outline of the Venus’s posture is, at its core, a series of curves- some convex and some concave, with not a harsh angle to be found even as the figure’s narrative incorporates the surprise and embarrassment of being caught out of the bath. Sculptures of Venus have been the fodder for centuries of artistic study, as sculptures of the often nude goddess have served students learning the mechanics of figure drawing, the anatomy and rhythm of the human form. Yet it was these softnesses, this fleshiness that captured Smith’s artistic eye, as he was taken by the way that flesh lay atop the underlying skeleton and skin smoothed the edges of this complex pose.
To Aphrodite (to the back)
Turned in on itself, here the artist has fully imagined his own form in the pose of the Venus de Vienne, with the gentle yet taught sweep of the figure’s back commanding the gaze of the viewer. His hand wraps around his side, an interpretation of the bathing Venus’s futile attempts at modesty, and an echo of the hand of Cupid that rests upon her back in the ICAA’s cast. As in the Hymns of Orpheus that Smith reflected on in the creation of this work, Venus is described as “apparent and unseen”, contradictory concepts that nevertheless manifest in the contrast between the contorted pose where the figure hides themselves and the sumptuous flesh permanently visible from all angles of the sculpted figure.
As Smith tackled this posture, he noted the difficulty not just in depicting the nuances of the figure’s back, which is both subtly convex and concave in complimentary places, but in maintaining the sculpture’s posture himself. This challenge speaks to the ephemerality of the posture captured by the original sculpture, which catches Venus in the split second as she emerges from her bath.
A goddess with a diadem
In this metalpoint, Smith again combines gold and silver to capture another canonical sculptural form from the ancient world, that of the standing nude. Based on a figure from The MET’s collection generically named “Marble head of a goddess wearing a diadem, probably Aphrodite”, Smith captures the angularity of the figure’s posture, the musculature that underlies the organic curves of her body, and the ambiguity of her identity that results from her missing face. Sans visage, the figure becomes an archetype of the idealized feminine form exemplified by Venus, ripe for projection from an expectant viewer.
Study of Gaia
In this work, entitled Gaia, Smith carves out the proud bust of a woman, the crisp lines of goldpoint marking her dramatic silhouette against the monochrome of the paper. Alluding to the titular goddess’s origin story of rising, fully formed, from the earth, the figure’s head emerges from its background, her taut neck supporting a face insistent upon being seen. Smith considered his own mother while completing this piece, adding a further layer of personal resonance to this striking image.
24-carat goldpoint and silverpoint on clay coat paper
The artist turns his attention to himself, with careful hatching pulling forward his form from the surface of the coated paper. The lower body whispers away into the monochrome of the background, while the suggestion of the figure’s head leaves the work open-ended, prompting the viewer’s attention back to the articulated form below. Inherent to the figure is the comfort suggested by its posture and the soft curve of the neck and spine, a position that stands in stark opposition to the contortions and stretches captured in the Venus de Vienne and Ariadne drawings.
To Ariadne (To the hand)
24-carat goldpoint, silverpoint and gouache on clay coat paper
In the writing of Philostratus that describes the posture of Sleeping Ariadne, her posture is one of stretches and bendings, the mechanics of joints gone relaxed in a slumber observed by the gods. In this work, Smith records his own form as a sculptural fragment in Ariadne’s posture. Eyes shut and as oblivious to the viewer as Ariadne was to the watchful gaze of Dionysus, the viewer can observe the gentle press of hand against cheek, the sweep of wrist encircling head, the relaxation of stomach as it moves with drowsy breaths. Smith adds color to his face, infusing the head with the terracotta of ancient pottery, leaving himself both contemporarily recognizable yet timelessly enmeshed in classical aesthetics.