Harvesters: Emily Mae Smith @ Perrotin Paris
Perrotin in Paris is concurrently running three strong presentations, one of them being the Parisian solo debut by the artist we've been closely following for years, Emily Mae Smith. Presenting a large body of work, Harvesters is coherently spread through four spacious rooms of the gallery's ground floor with large to small scale canvases and a big selection of works on paper.
It was a few years ago that Smith first introduced the character of a broom in her work and over the time this hyper-stylized character from Disney's Fantasia, has become her ultimate muse. By turning this actual tool into her visual tool and a vehicle, it's helping the artist to work with the figure, representation, politics, or feminism. In this particular exhibition, the Austin-born and Brooklyn-based artist is transporting the protagonist into an ancient time of curiosities and discoveries, reinventing her recognized The Studio concepts along the way. Mixing the cartoonish origins of the main character, alongside iconic, mysterious, darkened settings of classical 16th or 17th-century Flemish masterpieces, she constructs a surreal clash of realities. On one hand, she is giving the main role to an animated object, but on another hand, suggesting placing a female character in settings traditionally destined to male protagonists. Simultaneously discrediting and parodying the historic narrative, Smith is proposing an alternative, all while immersing herself in painterly tradition and the play with light, perspectives, depths, surfaces, and other delicious elements of the work.
To some extent contrasting these large classically-inspired oils on linen is a series of smaller works in which Smith utilizes her interest in graphic, hyper-clean aesthetic. Working with silhouettes of mice on wheat as well as constructing patterns from breasts-like shapes or ginkgo leaves, she is in a way glorifying the rodent which was historically portrayed as a pest and a problem. Placing them against the perfect, almost kitsch-like sunset skies she is again going against the grain (!!!), and is once again suggesting an alternative, one that was overlooked in the past. Still occasionally referring to the broom character, but only depicting its faceless "head" appearing in between the stylized ginkgo leaves and in harmony with one of the longest-surviving species on Earth, Smith is giving her muses an eternal life placing them one step above their male-invented and favored precestors.
Photos and text by Sasha Bogojev