Artist Statement 2015

It is the diarist’s impulse to record as much as possible in an attempt to capture that which we will ultimately—and tragically—lose. It is of course a futile enterprise. But this does not diminish the drive. For some artists, including myself, the impulse to create is similar. I have always been an obsessive recorder of experience. For most of my life, my medium was words. I was a poet first and playwright second. The shift to painting several years ago was unanticipated. Yet now that the dust from this unexpected transformation has settled, I see that it’s simply a continuation of what I’ve always done.

To be a poet is to have the ability and desire to distill things to their essence. A painting, when successful, does what poetry does: It captures a moment in time, what is here and what is gone. It captures mood. It holds in place eternally the eternal moment that vanishes almost as soon as it is apprehended. To be a playwright, on the other hand, this is to tell stories by putting characters on a stage to stand before you and reveal themselves. My paintings do the same. The theatricality now is wordless, but no less replete with character.

As an artist, character fascinates me, but color is what anchors me. Color is where I begin and end. It is no less lyrical and labile as meter is in poetry. A poet searches for le mot juste; a painter, a colorist, at any rate, searches for the perfect color. Both tell more than multitudes of their ill-chosen counterparts could ever tell. As a lifelong storyteller, I am continually amazed and awed by the complexity of color and line, by how profoundly the slightest changes in either can influence the story emerging out of the paint. It is as mysterious a thing as I have ever known. It is the language of painting, and it is now my language.

My palette and themes are often playful, quite childlike in aspect (though oftentimes grounded in a fierce historicism), evoking the timelessness of childhood, when we entered worlds free of doubt or disbelief. What was fantastic, what was magical, whatever we brought our playful spirits to, was not only real for us, but hyper-real. I bring this same spirit to my paintings with the intention of creating a similar sense of hyper-reality, what I sometimes like to call Viewmaster Cinderella. Most especially, I want my paintings to come alive, to be worlds you can enter into and experience, where you and the painting become collusive in the act of storytelling.

Although as a painter I eschew what I call narrative markers, that is, familiar objects or structures that place the subject in a recognizable setting with recognizable objects (after all, I want the stories to be your own), I nevertheless view narrative as the driving force behind all my work. Stories are important. They are what adhere us to ourselves. They connect us to our personal as well as our collective past, they stitch us to the future, and through them, we become the other.

Melinda R. Smith

May 2015