Willie Wayne Smith

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What is my work about?

Art is a self-directed labor where the complexities of life are ripe for commanding and domesticating. From socio-political standing to juvenile impulse, it is a place where my essential and differentiating qualities might coalesce into a meaningful freedom. I create projects that intersect high and low language systems. I then interject my own interpretations and emotionality, while remaining empathetic to images or ideas that are alien. My actions are removed, self-aware, introspective activities that I think of as akin to poetry. They exist in a theatrical value system that champions the potential significance of anything.


Artist Statement

I have recently been making varied paintings and sculptures that revolve around a fleeting fictional character. I know a few things about him for certain: he is a contractor; he is love sick; he is not a very good contractor; and he is full of longing for some pleasant and unnameable feeling (perhaps the ocean). I don’t think he is an artist, although he may have poetic inclinations. I would guess that he specializes in sheetrock, paint, and general renovation. He is likely tired of his job, but disinterested in any of his other apparent options. The artworks exist in a somewhat hallucinatory space. I want them to oscillate between reality and image while being completely immersed in the languages of abstraction and narrative. I want them to convey suppressed desire, festering and corroding materiality into bodily or spiritual places. There are moments on a job site when the debris seems capable of creating its own perplexing civilization, or when prisms of sunlight on a partially painted surface play beautiful games with perception and space. I have been attempting to make objects that cull from the potentialities of a day laborer’s experiences, as well as the liberated aesthetics of western art. I have been trying create from the intersection where they share the story of a worker wishing to decide his/her own actions; to feel free.

The first images I am including in this application are of works from this “contractor” group. They consist of works with manifold experiences and levels of technical trickery (or process) that may necessitate a careful reading of the materials list as well as additional information. For example “Headway” is a maple plywood panel which visually floats out from the wall 2 1/2 inches. It has been primed to an eggshell surface which has been maintained and reiterated through the use of an airbrush paint application. The disruptive elements of the painting are all faked—that is to say the illusions of masking tape, mesh tape, pencil marks, screw heads, joint compound and caulk are made from either plastic poured into a mold, or a manipulation of acrylic paint and mediums to create a near trompe l’oeil effect. “Headway” is intended as an abstraction of a terribly assembled and patched intersection of sheetrock seams that glow and protrude from flat planes that become screen-like as they dissipate into spatiality. The translation of the materials into paint and plastic allows for a heightened sense of the elements as icons or language. This synthetic re-creation, much like digital processes, allows for perceptual alterations where representation can transform from real, to hyper-real, to impossible, to surreal, to abstract. Plastic screw heads can be any hue or tint of metallic paint and still initially read as actual fasteners, before the knowledge of their falsity pushes the experience of the art into a virtual realm. It is in the virtual that I believe aesthetic decisions can become symphonic. Slipping in and out of realism is a tool I intend to support a portrayal of internal projections and longings onto an external world. My own time spent on work sites has been full of complex ephemeral moments and visual opportunities that exist in half daydreams of other thoughts. The painting “Hot Mix” is an acrylic faux-rendering of a mixing board of hot mix (a donut of joint compound filled with water and plaster). It is shown as partially mixed, as it would look, in plaster work, if someone left the task suddenly without finishing. It is complicated by the adornment of a circular halo of rainbow colored plastic screw heads with airbrushed halos of their own. I am interested in the distance between the mundane narrative of someone mixing plaster and the personalized flight of fantasy implied by the abstract screw elements. I am also including four images of resin casts of paint tray liners that have been painted and affected in differing ways. They imply perceived expressive potential and meaning in objects that are discardable and removed from their use-value. When I have felt repressed or failing as a worker, I have often seen myself in scraps. The similarities between wall tape and gauze, tumors and air bubbles, colors and emotions, and varied tasks or objects of any kind are best represented abstractly. The significances of standardized procedures in language, art, and civilization are as convoluted as the insanity of capitalism itself. For me, they are best talked about in narrative at the point where rational statements become useless.

Studio. It is a place where I—the son of a medical missionary and peace core agriculturalist who were displaced by fear of physical violence with their four biological (I am one) and three adopted Haitian children to a disenfranchised, Billy Graham Southern Baptist Bible Belt beaten Central Florida community—might outrun and metabolize my conflicted rearing into fulfilled creation. When I am elsewhere, I pine for the studio in my mind’s eye, but when I get there I encounter an unanticipated problem. I want to make something sincere and transcendent, but my desire meets with materials, languages, and potential activities that I love, but are stubbornly outside of myself. There are brushes, spray guns, panels, canvas, wood, resins, plastics, sandpaper, oils, and pigments. Every step I take has instant context that seems disconnected from life itself. It is a theater laden with tropes that stubbornly resist metaphor. Yet my compulsion to engage persists. I embrace the facade and work somewhat like a fiction writer, starting with an object, drawing, color, or structure and then building. Within the decision-making process I am always trying to tap into unconscious or subconscious impulses. John Updike characters, my brother’s pigs, strangers I saw, my mother’s lost game to cancer, Zizek, Sontag, my sisters in Florida, Perec, Ponty, my job, Nina Simone, the sunset, or the way I want a cigarette a year after quitting all flood in as potential subjects. So I grab something and begin. I believe these desires to be direct expressions of the economy and culture I exist in, and thus important both to myself therapeutically, and—by proxy of shared experience—potentially important to the world at large (this might be delusion). I usually work within typical structures of western art, but attempt to undermine passivity whenever possible. I care less about how something looks, and more about the way it’s looks, surfaces, and processes function within the entirety of its being. This is likely why I am drawn to “ugly” Art for inspiration, though not exclusively. I am always attempting to use all the tools at my disposal to make a self-enriching subjective experience, thoughtful, empathetic, and cruel.

The final three images I am including are my most recent pursuit, though the first iteration was made a year ago. They are paintings on primed and stretched canvas in the general format of coloring book pages. The images begin as quick charcoal drawings achieved from memory or imagination. I then sanitize the ones I am most compelled by into crisp line drawings. Once I have the image, and a large canvas ready, I paint quickly and furiously with watery acrylic. Gestures and colors are applied as split second reactions to the self-perpetuated image structure. I then apply a layer of automatic airbrushed text- inventing statements that weave in and out of relation to the drawing. I refuse to plan either the gestures or text beforehand. This results in an activity I find cathartic, exhausting, and slightly embarrassing. After covering the paintings in tape and cutting a laborious stencil, I paint in the line drawings in many layers. This gives a thick, graphic, pop paint physicality to the final layer. The paintings’ individual layers are like throw away expressive exercises. They scream about coloring book pages that didn’t make the fridge when we were children, and dumb graffiti—but they are thoroughly invested. I earnestly and lovingly will each ill-fitting aspect of the paintings into being. In spite of their similarity to pages that were weeded out, I hope they declare their sufficiency. I hope they yell “There’s nothing wrong with me, and there never was! Why would you throw me out?! I’m fridge-worthy!”.

MFA 2010 Cranbrook Academy of Art
BFA 2006 Maryland Institute College of Art

Solo Exhibitions
(Upcoming September) Loose Lips and Forgotten Lines, Good Weather Gallery, Little Rock, AR                                             Consider My Tongue Swallowed, Sadie Halie Projects, Brooklyn, NY
It is Like a Simile, CEREALART (project room), Organized by Mickalene Thomas, with color catalog, Philadelphia, PA

Two Person Exhibition
Parallel Grounds: MaryKate Maher and Willie Wayne Smith, Daylight Savings Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

Group Exhibitions
Re/Post, Storefront Ten Eyck, curated by Ian Cofre, Brooklyn, NY
I Am What I Am Not Yet, Madelyn Jordan Fine Art, Scarsdale, NY

Telephone, 150 Franklin Street, curated by Robert Costello, Brookyln, NY

Peekskill Project V
, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, NY
Magically Suspicious, School 33 Art Center, Baltimore, MD
The Wonder Years, Sadie Halie Projects, Brooklyn, NY
Squeeze Machine, Field Projects, New York NY
Peripheral Nausea, Brooklyn Fireproof, New York NY

🙂 ^-^ , Casita Maria Center for Art and Education, New York, NY

Out of the Woods
, Graduate Degree Exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, MI

Wonderland, Adam Lister Gallery, Fairfax VA

Joan Mitchell MFA Award Nominee, Cranbrook Academy of Art
Director’s Award, Cranbrook Academy of Art
Cranbrook Painting Merit Scholarship

MICA Talent Grant
Emanuel Herman ’39 Prize, MICA

Nora and Eugene Leake Scholarship in Painting, MICA
Emanuel Herman ’39 Prize, MICA

Francis Burns Harvey Merit Award, MICA