June 2 – July 8, 2018
Opening reception: Saturday, June 2, 5 – 8 PM
6BASE is pleased to present Bruno Smith: 20L8, a solo exhibition on view June 2 through July 8, 2018. This is the eighth exhibition in the space and will feature new works by the New York-based artist Bruno Smith.
Smith collages, sews, and embroiders textiles that have been donated or found to create his compositions. By deconstructing the original function and preserving the known or unknown sentimental value, he brings to life a second form of the original object. On view in 20L8 are wall works as well as domestic furniture that have been upholstered by the artist. Taking a departure from his more conventional square-format canvases, here Smith introduces organically shaped compositions that in turn are more closely associated and seemingly representational of the human body.
The works in 20L8 are an amalgam of fashions past; as trends change our clothes become stamps of nostalgia. The articles of clothing, some gathered from thrift stores in Texas and others donated directly from friends, become the relics of our memories and, like a photograph, we hold onto references to past selves. Even if a viewer may not have a personal relationship to the clothing in the works—one may find themselves in it.
In a statement by the artist, Smith explains, “The pieces evoke portraiture: torsos draped in outfits, clothes scattered across a bedroom, sleeves swinging, and legs crossed. Unwanted garments suspended from their efforts, now, reinvigorated, eternalized, and admired. A chair stripped of it’s manufactured features, reduced to its bare essentials—its function and its material. As a result, after removing hard edges and reupholstering the cushion in clothes, the chair becomes an individual dressed. A ghost of past lives or a representation of persons imagined.”
Bruno Smith was born in New York City where he currently lives and works. He received his B.F.A. from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Most recently, his work was the subject of solo exhibitions Anachronous Synthesis, Apostophe NYC, Jersey City, New Jersey in 2017 as well as a dinner show held by Apostrophe NYC in 2018. Smith’s work has been included in numerous group exhibitions, including The Tunnel at Lyle O, Reitzel, New York (2018); Again in Art City, Apostrophe NYC Gallery x Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, New Jersey (2017); Invisible Paintings, Apostrophe NYC, Jersey City, New Jersey (2016); Base 12 Pop Up #1, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which traveled to MoMA PS 1, Long Island City, New York (both 2016); Borrowed Paths, Broken Rules, Gowanus Ballroom, Brooklyn (2015); among others. In 2010 and 2012, his work was featured in the Brucennial at the Bruce High Quality Foundation in New York. Later this month his work will be featured in two group exhibitions: Bed Show, Ghost Gallery, Brooklyn and Cosmetic Solutions No. 1, 471 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn.
Interview with the artist:
Marina Gluckman: How has your practice developed from painting to using textiles and from more conventional compositions that are square and rectangular to the works that have a more organic shape, like the works that are on view at 6BASE?
Bruno Smith: A lot of the painting that I did was very quick and it was pretty gestural. I would arrive at a result very quickly. It was also about creating geometric forms within organic gestural means. There was a point where I started to reduce the amount of paint and let more and more canvas of the canvas to show and then figure out ways to use liquid release and make the paint more watery and let the canvas be the more visual component. Eventually, I just transitioned into using other fabrics and began weaving my own fabrics to use as canvas. At some point it just got to this space where I wasn’t that interested in what the paint was doing on the different fabrics anymore. I was more interested in the speed at which two fabrics butt-up against each other and speak a completely, you know, massively contextualized world, when a lot of attention is to what the material is, and then to execute that into some sort of Abstract Expressionist mode spoke more to me than to continue to use painting within the context of art history, or the breadth of male painters.
M: At that time, where were you getting the fabrics?
B: They were all from a fabric store in Chicago when I first started. I went to school in Chicago and there was a place where the whole top floor had these endless rows of scrap bins from the end of yardage, so I could end up leaving the store with over 30 to 40 pounds of fabric that cost me no more than $10. In some ways it was both budgeted and a necessity for me to want to work in this material, but it also made it so that I could be less selective and be more expressive and have these parameters that were really based off of what was available, and that is where the clothing comes in, because something I used to do with my work a lot when I used to paint as well was I would limit my palettes based off of old “opps” paint, that were dropped off at Home Depot, you know people not using their paints, so the paints that I would get were based off the palettes that people didn’t want. So there’s this funny thing where I’m constantly finding limitations. My compositions are still mine, but so much of it is still based around parameters set up by me, by other people’s lack of interest in color, material, or clothing.
M: It’s appealing that recycling is part of your practice; it’s so relevant in this day in age. How does your hand come into the composition? I know you do a lot of the sewing and embroidery that we see in the works.
B: Yeah, for a while I had a difficult time navigating what it was that I wanted to see in my work. I think a lot of it was based within the construct of, okay, well if I’m doing Abstract Expressionism and painting, these are things that have happened before and these images and compositions have been explored. I think that is the basis of my compositions, but simultaneously, I’m also drawing a lot from quilting narratives and the tradition of quilting, but trying to break that down as well because that has a lengthy tradition that’s very rigorous and contrived. So, when I found these two spaces, it was a lot of easier to subtly break both of them down and have them both be jumping off points and my own.
What started happening instead of my work being composed of upholsteries specifically or blankets and towels it transitioned into clothing, which is something that taps into everyone’s narrative. It’s also one of the biggest wastes. I think it’s carbon emissions, plastics, and then clothing. I think it’s some of the most wasteful stuff, but yet we’re always attempting to reinvent our image, which is so tied to both this idea of hiding our bodies, but also expressing them and creating this individual narrative of independence. Once I started using the clothing there were parts of the materials that immediately, when put into either the shaped or square compositions, were indicators of clothing, and the second there were indicators of clothing, there were indications of figure, and the second the figure starts taping into the clothing, then the square is no longer necessary. I don’t want to represent the figure, but the figure is inherent in the clothing, and in some ways it felt more natural to have the clothing than be put onto armatures or frames that were mimicking organic forms or parts of bodies. Again, it’s not so directly obvious or associated, but there’s suddenly this question: what is this or where are they deriving from? That’s the funny thing about clothing is that is has a very specific way of fitting on the body, but at the same time every body is completely different, and the way it fits on a body will always be different from the way it fits on another body. So we are constantly picking and choosing our clothing based on our body size, our measurements, and our weird quirks, our weird insecurities, even psychological things that aren’t real or aren’t happening, but we believe them, because we constructed them. It’s interesting to take some of those looser forms and have people view them and suddenly accept or like these weirdly shaped things and see the clothing also abstracted, but then refitted on this thing and take on a body or life of it’s own.
M: How does the figure translate into the more organic shaped canvases? Earlier you started to discuss the dimensions of the works and how they were associated to the human body.
B: I chose a size for the small square pieces in the works that was the average size of a graphic on a t-shirt, but would reference then the limitations of what a t-shirt could show on the front of a torso. And funny enough that size also referenced the size of a head as well as the size of every part of your body, your limbs, femur, calves, and forearm. From there, seeing all of those in a quilted set-up like the works in the solo presentation for the Apostrophe NYC dinner show, it becomes this huge quilt referencing a group of people, yet everyone has individual components, but in this massive plethora, you kind of get lost in it, and the whole thing becomes this beautiful showing. I wanted to start individualizing each piece and then to actually reference the body and add to these torso proportions, more of an organic, and bodily-looking frame for it. To live inside a torso and allude to this idea of the individual as an island or the body as an island and each one is it’s own unique space.
M: Do you consider the individual works portraits?
B: I think they all in some ways become portraits of people who don’t exist, or people who might exist that we don’t know them, or there’s someone who could potentially be there.
M: Because you’re giving their clothing a second life.
B: I’m giving it a second life. I’m creating these remnants or ghosts of some sort, a potential of a person that could have this wardrobe, or be someone’s look for the day, have you thought about this? Or, more of the idea of this person has existed, or it is a new person, a new being, or a soul or aura of a human.
M: You’ve mentioned you’ve done commissions for people who have donated clothing items that then you compose into portraits using the articles from those individuals. How do they respond to seeing themselves or parts of themselves in a second form?
B: For people who give me all of the clothes, including the items they no longer want and the ones that they’ve held onto and essentially invested too much time and their own mortality and image and identity in that they can’t get rid of it, when they see themselves, it’s not a second life, it’s lives lived before, or past lives, suddenly turned into a portrait of them.
M: In some ways it’s a photograph; a capture of a memory. You can associate articles of clothing or colors with a certain person and seeing those things in a second form brings them to life in another way.
B: I mean, why do we keep objects? One is function and the other is novelty, or memory, or memorabilia. It’s like the magnets you get a tourist location or at an airport. You went to Paris, you’re in the airport, you get a magnet that says I went to Paris.
M: There seems to be a sharp contrast between thinking about how your parameters have been set-up by things that have been disposed by others and then this idea of abstractly capturing the memory of an individual, which brings a more personal and intimate sense to your works while also responding to your surroundings. Thrift stores are places where people want to get rid of their clothing, they’re not going to throw it out, but they want it to be reused. The portraits of the people who’ve donated clothing are sentimental. That bridge between the two is pretty huge, in my mind. There is so much potential.
B: What is the space in between? Everything else. I think the space in between is when all of it meets. The limitations of what is donated are vast, but it’s all the same purpose, which is why I call it ghosts or haunted a little bit. The clothes that are being gathered or I’m getting from thrift stores, I don’t know that story, but that story exists. There is someone who sees it and might have some notion, and in ways it becomes sort of archaeological.
M: Where are clothing items in the works at 6BASE sourced?
B: The majority of them are from Texas and going to one section of thrift stores and gathering shirts, which turn out to all pretty much Hawaiian and camouflage. In some weird ways, is that a generalization or is that a truth of fashion? When you look at the norm core fashion trend (from now being in thrift stores so much) is that it follows what is most readily available at thrift stores. It follows what is exactly being donated mostly. I think another aspect of the work is how it is that we form ourselves based on our regionalism or our groupings, how we see ourselves and where we want to be seen. How it is that we are perceived before it is that we are even spoken to. And whom we’re expecting to talk to and how based on what you wear.
M: Is there a big process in your mind when selecting the materials? I imagine a lot of it is that you’re responding to the environment around you, particularly when you go to visit your family in Texas. Do you go directly to one aisle in a thrift store or do you pick-out pieces that might be more appealing to you?
B: Yeah, I guess there is some, but when I do it myself, there is still my hand in the process, which is picking out Hawaiian shirts that not everybody would wear. I tend to look at things that standout and that have the potential to become more painterly. Materials, such as scarves, which obviously aren’t one of a kind, but in this context, were maybe once loved or maybe once were the most interesting thing in someone’s wardrobe.
M: So, as part of your show 20L8, you’ve introduced furniture into your practice. Could you talk a little bit about how these works came about?
B: The furniture is an interesting transition because it also references the body. It becomes like a resting space; a place to think or process. It also becomes another haunted object and, in some ways, because it’s functional, it’s not just a portrait or representation of a person, it’s literally an incantation of someone previous and now you are activating it with your own body. Looking at them and imagining that there was a person once or is still. It has this very odd, somewhat ominous, I don’t want to say shamanistic, but some weird aura to it. It speaks and breathes in some way.
M: They’re such a sentimental aspect to the practice in that sense. Having the combination of the furniture that comes off the wall and fills the space and the articles of clothing and fabric within the wall works, you want to sit in it and touch and hold onto that, because, in some sense, you feel like it was made for you since it speaks so much to the human body in an intriguing way.
B: That’s all fresh to me, so I’m still processing what it’s doing. I think there are two things happening, because there are the foldable chairs and the metal chairs, and those are just straightforward, these are now nice objects with fabrics and they’re very unique and have the same spirit as the wooden ones, but the wooden ones are stripped away from some of their individuality and function and brought back to the wood that they’re made of, and again, those chairs are second hand. To introduce then, the body or person on top of the cushion, which is what interacts the most and holds the weight of the person, through the buttocks. You’re sitting, and you’re not only sitting on this chair that has been stripped to it’s barest form, but also your weight on the clothing that no longer serves a human body. The body does a lot and the clothes, if you think about it in some metaphorical way, bares all of that stress and that movement. It’s just this thing that starts to become heavy I think.
Bruno Smith was born in New York City where he currently lives and works. He received his B.F.A. from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Most recently, his work was the subject of solo exhibitions Anachronous Synthesis, Apostophe NYC, Jersey City, New Jersey in 2017 as well as a dinner show held by Apostrophe NYC in 2018. Smith’s work has been included in numerous group exhibitions, including The Tunnel at Lyle O, Reitzel, New York (2018); Again in Art City, Apostrophe NYC Gallery x Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, New Jersey (2017); Invisible Paintings, Apostrophe NYC, Jersey City, New Jersey (2016); Base 12 Pop Up #1, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which traveled to MoMA PS 1, Long Island City, New York (both 2016); Borrowed Paths, Broken Rules, Gowanus Ballroom, New York (2015); among others. In 2010 and 2012, his work was featured in the Brucennial at the Bruce High Quality Foundation in New York. Later this month his work will be featured in two group exhibitions: Bed Show, Ghost Gallery, Brooklyn and Cosmetic Solutions No. 1, 471 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn.
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