Oil on Canvas, 1977
Presented to the University of Birmingham
by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest, 2001
Half bathed in shadow, the identity of this mysterious figure is secondary to its function as a ‘blank canvas’ onto which Smith can project his various formal concerns. Areas of light and dark are exaggerated and detail is obscured as if we were viewing through half-closed eyes. The splash of light creates new forms and shapes which dance across the figure’s body and the wall behind. It becomes difficult to distinguish between the material and the immaterial, negative and positive, and between what is form and what is shadow. This deliberate ambiguity and studied lack of clarity epitomises Smith’s very singular style.
There is a feeling that the figure is somehow sequestered or hidden away, perhaps even trapped behind bars. He appears to be caught turning away from the viewer, maybe in a deliberate attempt to conceal his modesty' though Smith humorously hints at what is being 'hidden' in the form of the suggestive door handle to the right of the figure.
For the background the paint has been applied loosely with a wide brush. The artist, Stan Smith, has paid rather more attention to the modelling of the figure; pale fleshy tones are overlayed with strokes of golden yellows and rosy pinks which contrast brilliantly against the neutral monochrome interior. The figure is long and thin and slightly hunched. The proportions of the body, in particular the arm in relation to the head, are clearly distorted, but it does nevertheless possess an awkward elegance. Smith uses flat blocks of colour, clean lines, and intersecting spatial planes, to create a work that is almost abstract in its geometric simplicity.
Stan Smith is well known as author of best selling books on painting techniques, notably 'Oil Painting Workbook'. He was President of The London Group of painters and sculptors between 1979 and 1993, and was associated his close friend David Hockney and with the Pop Art movement in Britain in the 1960s and 70s.