Studio  February 24, 2022  Barbara A. MacAdam

Howard Smith’s Accumulative Practice Captured by “Marks in Time”

Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.

Howard Smith, Beginnings #6, 2002-21. Oil on linen.

Howard Smith is a great accumulator of marks and lines, shapes and colors. And, he is master of the in-between: be it within his works, in the spaces holding his audiences, or on the gallery walls. A sense of time, too, is embedded in how his paintings are made and how they are perceived.

His gathering of marks “is about making a language,” he says.

“I couldn’t do enough to get clarity, so I made groupings.” He divided them into categories—“Families,” “Beginnings,” and “Universes.” “It’s a matter of time—an ongoing project.”

He began working with small groupings, inspired by the sight of little jade sculptures of Chinese warriors in burial suits composed of jade tiles, each inscribed with a character. Each of his paintings is like a cameo performer whose role is determined by those of its surrounding actors.

Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery. 

Installation View of Howard Smith: Marks in Time at Jane Lombard Gallery, 2022.

“I’m a mark maker,” he says, pointing out how the spaces between paintings and the time lapsed between each work’s completion allowed him to slow down and assess the relations of such seemingly disparate parts. As for why he paints such tiny pieces, he explains, “I wanted to see how much I could put into the small frame.”

In the larger paintings, Smith is able to create the magic of stunning minimalistic surface tones built atop uneven, tiny marks. These marks come together to create the foundation for a coherent surface. It’s the charm of an inherent contradiction. “I’m interested in things that aren’t certain,” Smith says.

Howard Smith, Cobalt Green Dark, 2020. Oil on linen. 18 x 14 inches 945.7 x 35.6 cm). Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.
Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.

Howard Smith, Cobalt Green Dark, 2020. Oil on linen. 18 x 14 inches 945.7 x 35.6 cm).

Howard Smith, Viridian Green, 2021. Oil on linen. 16 x 14 inches. Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.
Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.

Howard Smith, Viridian Green, 2021. Oil on linen. 16 x 14 inches.

Howard Smith. Two Blues, 2019-20. Oil on linen. 28 x 22 inches. Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.
Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.

Howard Smith, Two Blues, 2019-20. Oil on linen. 28 x 22 inches.

That’s the way it is with color, for example. Smith loves watercolor, a subtle medium, which requires many applications to achieve the desired tone and density. And yet, he works mainly with oil paint and oil pastels. More recently, he has come to love colored pencil—a medium he used to hate. Above all, he has always worked by natural light, seeing it as a material that creates special effects. He allows it to creep through the raw sides of paintings, adding an elusive edge.

Smith was born in Chicago in 1943. He earned a B.A. from Colorado College in 1965 and attended graduate school at Stanford University through 1966.

As a student in art school, he engaged a bit with the figure, cobbling together, with friends, enough money to hire a model. But his real interest, even then, was in materials and spatial relations. He was creative: he worked with dolls to that end.

In the 1980s, he became a member of the Radical Painting movement, which included such Minimalist and post-Minimalist artists as Marcia Hafif, who exhibited Smith at her loft in SoHo.

Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.

Howard Smith, Indian Red, 2006. Oil on unstretched linen. 12.75 x 13.75 inches (32.4 x 34.9 cm) Framed.

The group debuted at the Williams College Museum of Art in 1986. The members, who varied in their approaches, ranged from Gunter Umberg and Carmen Gloria Morales to Joseph Marioni and Frederic Thurz, who derived from Milton Resnick.“My interest was in the brushstroke,” says Smith, who made a few paintings consisting simply of a single brushstroke.

Also interesting is that—in keeping with his obsessive eye—for thirty years, Smith was an antiques picker, traveling widely to look at collections. “I even found a Constable drawing,” he says. It’s hanging in his Upstate home in Pine Bush N.Y., where he has the larger one of his two studios.

He also found a small John Singer Sargent painting and some Erich Hempel prints. Being a picker, he says, helped him to support his family. “I got pretty good at it; I wasn’t a snob about it."

Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.

Howard Smith Interview Still.

As for the future, Smith, who shows with Jane Lombard Gallery in New York, has recently pondered something different—making colored sculptures in steel.

About the Author

Barbara A. MacAdam

Barbara A. MacAdam is a New York-based freelance editor and writer, who worked at ARTnews for many years as well as for Art and Auction, New York Magazine, Review Magazine, and Latin American Literature and Arts. She currently reviews regularly for The Brooklyn Rail.

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