Philip Smith "Blue Glasses" (2012)
Philip Smith “Blue Glasses” (2012)

NEW YORK CITY |Philip Smith: Sign Language collects the latest body of psychologically-charged images, created by the artist Philip Smith, who drew from found imagery in 1950s Cold War spy manuals, lingerie ads, books on mysticism and numerology, lost magic manuals and early genetic diagrams.

Smith’s pictographic work was first seen in the seminal Pictures exhibition, which was curated by Douglas Crimp at Artists Space. That show placed Smith alongside Robert Longo, Sherrie Levine, Troy Brauntuch and Jack Goldstein. These five artists established the movement that has become known as The Pictures Generation that now includes Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Laurie Simmons and others.

Smith works the canvas like a physicist’s blackboard. Using found imagery, he can postulate new image formulations and equations. The paintings in this Philip Smith: Sign Language, on view at New York’s Jason McCoy Gallery starting November 17, are characterized by slightly visible erased imagery. The effect is akin to memory and ghost-like. The curators say these evocative images are reminiscent of Smith’s childhood that was filled with séances and talking spirits. They are quite disorienting as they flicker with both pop culture and metaphysical practices.

“I think of the paintings really as drawings, as if the canvas were just a large sheet of paper,” Smith has said. “This allows me to work freely and automatically as if in some sort of trance state. The result is somewhat similar to the intent of Jain paintings from India or Tibetan thangkas, which serve to open a door to another realm. This often results in a curious sensation of time travel for the viewer.”

Because of these ghostly associations, Smith’s work has been included in “Can Art Perform Feats of Magic?” in Artspace and is in the permanent collection of the Whitney, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas Museum of Art, Miami Art Museum, Detroit Institute of Art, among others.

His unusual life story has been captured in his memoir, Walking Through Walls, published by Simon and Schuster—the true story of growing up with a father who discovers that he has supernatural powers and can talk to the dead and heal the sick. Smith’s memoir recounts his often bizarre coming of age. He managed to map out his own identity in the shadow of a father who, truly loomed larger than life itself.  The cable TV network Showtime has acquired the book for a weekly television series, now in development.

The critic Walter Robinson compares Smith’s paintings to “a magic act.” Robinson says:

Smith’s new paintings happen right before your eyes, but you’re still not quite sure what it is you’ve seen. The pictures themselves are straightforward enough, amalgamations of simple line drawings that have been made piece by piece and then scraped away and made again.

Working on a monochrome surface that is white or gray or occasionally a single color, Smith uses images that are glyph-like and diagrammatic, and therefore freighted like portents with uncertain meaning. His paintings are pale and otherworldly, palimpsests of notations made at different times for uncertain reasons, images that seem to embody the unknown in the very traces of their erasures. They remain open in their apparent randomness, images juxtaposed by chance or perhaps by an esoteric design, giving rise to a suggestive logic that is unexpected and even revelatory.

Check out the catalog here.

Jason McCoy Gallery
41 East 57th Street, 11th floor
New York 10022

Philip Smith "Various Devices to Control Chance," 2013 (Oil and wax on canvas 39 x 47 inches)
Philip Smith “Various Devices to Control Chance,” 2013 (Oil and wax on canvas 39 x 47 inches)
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