14th April - 6th June, 2023
David Brian Smith
DAVID BRIAN SMITH
Galerie ISA is delighted to present ‘Tripper’, the first solo exhibition in India by the British artist, David Brian Smith. Another first for Smith is the title of the show. He has never before used a single word for an exhibition and explains that he ‘likes the idea of doing so’, for two reasons: the first being that he began preparing for the show by dividing the paintings he was making according to different countries or places he had always wanted to see. Each painting took inspiration from Smith’s imaginings of the landscapes or scenes there - even though the artist did not actually travel to visit the respective places themselves. Rather - like Henri Rousseau with his jungle paintings, Smith went on an imaginary - or we might say now, a ‘virtual’ journey. The genesis for this process was born out of what Smith describes as ‘a longing to explore.’ So the artist undertook a trip (of sorts), but also, - and this brings us to the second reason why Smith likes this one word title - the term ‘tripper’ is significant for Smith when explaining his work to someone unfamiliar with his paintings. The artist often describes his practice as being composed of ‘large trippy landscapes’. Smith enjoys this double meaning. In British slang, an excursionist is described as a ‘tripper’, but it is also the term used to describe someone under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, such as LSD.
Tripper - or tripping - suggests an adventure, one filled with excitement, intense experiences and a visual fiesta of colours and rich, vibrant patterns. It is unsurprising - and delightful - that the works in this exhibition fulfil our expectations set by Smith’s premise. The artist has created an array of intensely worked, meticulously rendered paintings that combine brilliant, jewel-like colours with intricate webs of pattern and form. There are landscapes that appear rooted in alpine forests and undulating mountains, and tall, waving palm trees that tower incongruously above diminutive horse riders. The painting with the riders is reminiscent of the early Renaissance artist, Paulo Uccello’s ‘The Hunt’ with its leaping horses and hounds set against painstakingly delineated flowers and leaves, but also recalls delicate Indian miniatures. As the paintings evolved though, the location of each title became less important to Smith. The work originally titled ‘Miami’, for example, became ‘Night Shifting’. Like the original idea of the trip itself, the works became more about the journey of making them, as opposed to conjuring up or encapsulating a place in itself.
Besides the brilliant use of colour and wonderfully joyful patterns that infuse each of Smith’s paintings, it is impossible to talk about them without discussing their materiality, the history of the artist’s deliberately specific choices, and his highly individual techniques. All of the paintings in the exhibition are made on a linen tweed with a herringbone weave. Smith has been painting on this material for over ten years. Originally he liked its connection to rural England and to tweed flat caps which are synonymous with farming and rural life, but he also admires what he calls the ‘wonderful qualities of this stable cloth’ and it has become his ‘go to’ for his larger paintings.
Smith grew up on a sheep farm in Shropshire. He first became known for his paintings of sheep and shepherds in idyllic, Arcadian landscapes. The work has since evolved to focus on the landscapes themselves which reflect Smith’s deep love for nature. He shares this in common with the 19 Century British painter, Samuel Palmer, who was not only adept at conveying the English countryside but also intent on revealing its hidden, magical qualities. Although Smith grew up on a farm, he credits his tutor, Peter Bishop - who taught him at the beginning of his art education, in Shrewsbury - with encouraging him to make nature the inspiration for his practice. Bishop would regularly take his students to Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall in nearby Wales. This stunning natural phenomenon made a big impact on the young Smith, as did Bishop’s recommendation to look at the work of David Salle. The American artist’s paintings have been described as ‘kaleidoscopic’ and the artist himself talks about how art can function as an accidental trigger - a gateway for the unexpected or the irrational. This idea of using art to open a door into a different realm or even dimension is something that clearly resonates with Smith. He talks of the impact a ‘magnificent’ installation of colour by the German artist, Katharina Grosse had on him after visiting the Ikon gallery in Birmingham in 2020, and how this has remained in his mind and been a source of inspiration even for this current series of works.
While colour and the natural world are two of the most important aspects of Smith’s paintings, we also need to understand the importance the artist attaches to mark-making. He describes his brush work in terms we would more readily associate with textiles. Smith ‘stitches’ as opposed to strokes his canvases. Perhaps also playing on the idea of the woven substance on which he works, Smith acknowledges his interest in traditional craft techniques, such as weaving, but also uses his unique process to create lightfilled, densely packed surfaces brimming with details. These works sometimes shine all the more because the painter incorporates other materials such as gold leaf onto his grounds in order to better reflect the light.
Text is something that has appeared in many of Smith’s paintings. One such example was derived from a quote from the artist’s BA tutor - the painter Paul Hempton. During a tutorial, he saw Smith’s candy coloured landscape paintings and said: ‘David, is your world really that sweet?’. It prompted Smith to think about how others perceived his work. Smith’s palate was affected by this comment and it encouraged him to think about the power of language and most specifically the role of text. Smith even wonders whether - as a dyslexic painter - it made more sense to him to use letters like a brushstroke.
Whatever the reason, the combination of text, texture and a dazzling array of pattern and colour, ensure that Smith’s joyous visions will persist in the mind’s eye and lead the viewer on a wonderful journey of discovery into an alternative, but consistently believable world which buzzes with energy and brims with light.