In working with our current artist, Mel Smothers, I had to chuckle over his response to my request for an artist statement. He wrote, “The more I’ve painted, the more I’ve found to say. These works tell a portion of the stories — a portion because curator Natalie Nelson selected them. She may have known if I were to tell the story, she wouldn’t have enough walls.
“The works here begin in the wilderness area above Lake Tahoe, travel to studios in Davis and the Cascades, the art fair of Miami Beach, earthworks in the western desert and end in New York City. I believe all of them together tell a personal painting story.”
It’s true that the exhibit, titled “Postcards” (on display through Jan. 2) jumps around a bit, from work completed in the late 1990s to work that was barely dry. Smothers is one of those amazingly adaptive artists, who launches into a particular subject with such gusto that he is driven to complete painting after painting until he’s exhausted all the possibilities of the motif, scene or idea.
The exhibit previews a selection (a postcard, if you will) of four different series by Smothers, along with a recent video project.
Smothers is also a bicoastal artist, choosing to alternate part of the year in Brooklyn with time spent in Tahoe. He has deep roots in Davis and Sacramento, having lived and studied in the area before his move in 2002.
This geographic flitting between locales is solidly reflected in his choice of subject matter and the intensity of color in his paintings.
In his earliest paintings, done during his time in Davis, landscape dominates. The pull of the horizon line, which divides local scenes into sky and land, emphasizes the flatness of Yolo County. The heightened colors of his landscapes, especially noted in his scenes of Yolo and to a lesser extent in his Yosemite views, reflect an alternate sense of light than paintings completed in New York. These East Coast scenes tend to be grayer, or more tonal, in color.
Smothers’ series “Crow Stories” and “Book of the Dead” are both developed with an eye to making specific objects project in three dimensions. Using 3-D glasses (included in the gallery), birds appear to take flight. Smothers was inspired to paint this grouping of porcelain vessels after a museum trip, where he viewed the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead as well as Chinese ceramics.
More recently, Smothers has focused on creating work included in his “Dear Andy” series. He views these paintings as “postcards to be sent to Andy Warhol from his estate in Montauk, N.Y.,” thus they often include cancellation marks and messages in an ongoing posthumous dialogue with Warhol.
Smothers began this series when he read that Warhol’s oceanside estate at Montauk recently sold. While Warhol did not visit this estate frequently, Smothers enjoyed the tranquil views of the ocean and wildlife. He made notations about the estate to report back to Andy. Blended with imagery from Warhol’s paintings, his series “Dear Andy” was a way to communicate with the late Warhol.
I encourage visitors to come hear Smothers give a presentation from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Pence Gallery, 212 D St., to get a sense of his paintings as they’ve developed. This talk is free and open to the public.
For those of you who love films that delve into the art world, come to our next movie night at the Pence. Our feature film for December is titled “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock”?
The documentary follows Teri Horton, a truck driver with a $5 purchase that she believes was painted by Jackson Pollock, as she takes on the art establishment in her 15-year quest to authenticate the piece.
Admission is $5 general and $2 for Pence members, and includes all the popcorn you can eat. Don’t miss it at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15.
During the holiday season, I want to encourage you to stop at the Pence’s Holiday Market for last-minute gifts. On view through Dec. 23, our market is filled with handcrafted bowls, warm scarves and gorgeous jewelry, created by local artists and craftspeople. Also on view are small paintings, ceramics and photos that would make great presents for someone who loves things with character and style.
This sale helps not only support our local artisans, but the Pence itself as a community gallery, going strong for more than 35 years. We hope you have a lovely holiday season, and that you visit us this month or in the new year!
— Natalie Nelson is executive director and curator of the Pence Gallery. Her column is published monthly.