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Digital and Interstellar Worlds Abound in Tom Smith's Paintings

In 'Heavenly Bodies,' multimedia Tom Smith finds inspiration in digital glitch and universal splendor.

Crag (2014), 24 X 28”, wood on panel with spraypaint and acrylic with custom painted frame. Images courtesy of the artist

New York-based multimedia artist and actor Tom Smith is firmly rooted in a new generation of artists bringing digital imagery and topographies to their painted or sculptural analog works. Like a Kraftwerkian man-machine, he replicates the shapes and textures of Adobe Illustrator, or the glitches found in video interlacing with acrylic, spray paint, and collage materials.

Superficial threads connect Smith with artists like Marie Dolma-Chophel, Lauren Pelc-MacArthur, and Jeanette Hayes, but Smith's transposition of software or Internet-based art onto canvas ends up looking a bit more like Anthony Ausgang's hyper-colored and shimmering psychedelia. Well, minus the cartoonishly wide-eyed and tripped-out cats.

Whodunit (2014), 20 X 20”, acrylic on panel

In his latest series, Heavenly Bodies—currently on exhibit at Rox Gallery—Smith continues his exploration of these “electric” hypercolors. Where earlier work looks intentionally two-dimensional, this series has a 3D feel, with geometric textures overlapping flat backgrounds.

Saving Stone (2014), 20 X 20”, acrylic on panel

Boom Boom Room (2013) 33 X 46.5”, acrylic and collage on panel

As the show's name suggests, the paintings' colors are tied to the themes of the heavens, with “tones borrowed from sunrises and space nebulae.” The skies and landscapes in Brazil and Iceland had a profound effect on Smith, as did the dreams of worlds to be found interstellar travel. 

“In my striped works, I cut two paintings on paper into tiny slices, then combine them on a panel—the result is a picture that looks digital but is completely handmade,” Smith told The Creators Project. “Through that process I'm interested in creating surreal scenes that express what it's like to live in our digital culture. Most recently I've resolved the work without cutting and collaging, instead I use brushstrokes that mimic digital output and create the illusion of a 3D surface.”

Under a Rock (2014), 23 X 31”, acrylic on panel

“One new development for the work in this show is the use of chopped wood pieces that I spray-paint from different directions,” Smith added. “The effect is as if a colored light is shining on the surface. Although this show is specifically about painting, I'm expanding my work to include installations and transformed environments.”

Heavenly Bodies explores our fantasies about paradise,” Smith added. This concept finds vibrant output in Smith's alternately oozing and geometric paint explosions. 

The Blue (2014), 31 X 46”, acrylic on panel

What might also pop out at viewers of Heavenly Bodies are its aesthetic similarities to the set design and art of Pee Wee's Playhouse. While Pee Wee's cultish and highly influential TV show might not have been foremost on Smith's mind, it could have been there as bit of background hum. At the very least, their work shares the same exuberant and playfully anarchic spirit.

Click here to visit Tom Smith's official website.

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