"Night Scented," 2014, oil on panel, 37" x 50" (dyptich)

“Night Scented,” 2014, oil on panel, 37″ x 50″ (dyptich)

San Francisco painter David Michael Smith presents another gorgeous, exceptionally well executed body of work that furthers his exploration of the relationship between humans and the natural world (on view through January 31). Primarily figurative and narrative, the works prominently feature one male or female figure, generally from the bust up. Ages vary from infant to young adult, but they share one commonality: they are all undeniably beautiful people. Additionally, the works feature flowers, often huge, and/or an animal, be it a black bird, a horse, or an ermine. And while at first glance these can appear as simply very pretty pictures, which indeed they are, they feature the tension of threat that lends them a subtle air of doom or danger: the flowers, based on those by the Dutch masters, loom large in the background, as if they might consume the subject. The black bird, which sits behind the shoulder of a young boy, has a powerful-looking hooked peak. The ermine’s sharp claws rest on the naked breasts of a woman.

Though the fauna and flora occupy the same visual space as the figures, there is a palpable disconnect — the attractive subjects are oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them. Further, they present an implied viewing angle, sometimes directed at the viewer, sometimes off to the distance, that evokes a feeling of disengagement. Unlike Smith’s previous bodies of work, which were all very precisely painted, a few of these pieces feature blurs and smears reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s squeegee works. The effect provides a sense of movement, of time passing. Pushing his prodigious talents even further for this show, the artist sidles up to that sweetly evocative line of too precious, too lovely, without so obviously revealing why they’re not. All the while that the picture unfolds itself, the viewer has something sublime to look at.

David Michael Smith's "King George III"

From the moment I first saw SF-based artist David Michael Smith‘s work at Scott Richards Contemporary Art a month or so ago, I was smitten. I had the chance to see this latest creation, King George III, at the SF Fine Art Fair, and I liked it so well that I was inspired to create this new section so I could talk about it: my pick of the week.
Smith draws on historic personalities, pop culture, and symbolism to add rich (often creepy or dark) narrative to his beautifully rendered, almost surreal paintings. Note, for this work, he also made the frame and constructed the clock.
Here is Smith’s full description of this painting as stated on gallery Website: This painting depicts King George III, the third British monarch from the House of Hanover. By all accounts a well-intentioned, pious, and judicious king, he suffered in later life from recurrent and, eventually, permanent mental illness. This is generally supposed to have been the result of the blood disease porphyria.
One of the symptoms of porphyria is a purple discoloration of urine during an attack. The painting is saturated with the color purple and the glass bowl under his right hand is full of a purple liquid. The pillar behind him is made of porphyry (derived from the same Greek word, meaning “purple pigment,” from which the disease is named) as is the clock face set into the frame. I’ve included symbols of madness in the painting including a hornet and a tulip and the looming storm on the horizon.
King George III kept a menagerie of exotic animals at Kew Gardens and I’ve included the monkeys as a reference to them. As his life became more and more wretched due to his illness, he lived much of his later years as a prisoner in Windsor Castle, subjected to the harsh treatment of various doctors. I imagine he could have felt quite a kinship with these creatures, ripped from the normalcy of their lives and put behind bars.