Charlotte Smith: Paint Rhetoric Celebrates Composition Over Narrative

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In Charlotte Smith: Paint Rhetoric the artist's paintings to a large extent use the same materials for each, but the color variations are vast, with each painting singing a different siren sing. They seem to have in common that they are invitations, formal ones, telling the viewer what kind of evening or experience to expect.

Given the place of honor in the Anya Tish Gallery is "Late Conversation (Night Dance)" (72" x 48"). With a black background and multicolored dots of color, often blue, it might almost be an after-hours invitation, with an Oriental flavor -- I know we're supposed to say "Asian" now, but that is too broad to capture the lacquer-like quality, or the decidedly japanned look of the finish. Smith uses her paint generously, and here applies it to small pieces of paper or canvas, shaped a bit like sperm or a comma. These are glued to the canvas, and only close inspection reveals the layered effect. The emotional content is powerful, and there seems to be no question that this invitation is to a wealthy home, one where indiscreet behavior might not only be tolerated but encouraged, as long as it is kept out of sight. I, for one, would like to attend.

"Grandiloquence" is golden but subdued, suggesting an invitation from old friends to reminisce a bit, relaxing, peaceful, serene. The composition of this highly textured painting is more open at the bottom, more dense at the top, as a golden tree might be. The effect is soothing, and the anecdotes bound to be interesting, and some of them even true.

Another painting, "Magniloquence", with its red dots and what might be thin green stems, creates the impression of a field of poppies, and of a celebration, banners flying, or perhaps a picnic, blanket spread, with a carafe of rose wine.

"Altiloquence", with darker colors, suggests a more serious discussion, perhaps a formal debate, but there are enough whitish dots to ensure that the debate will not be without some levity, and wit. "Braggadocio", with white dots on a green background, seemed less involving, in tune with its title, It seemed to hurtle itself at you, rather than inviting you in - I wouldn't want to sit next to it at a dinner party.

Smith varies her approach in a series of paintings that suggest the look of a spiral binder, though far more complex. Each is composed of two separate paintings, side-by-side, with the interior side of each having tiny projections of paint that are shaped like bowling pins; these comprise what look like spiral bindings from a distance. Each side of the painting seems close to the mirror image of the other side, and the dots cluster near the "spiral', as though magnetized.

In one, "Small Confabulation I" (30" x 24"), there are brightly-colored dots against a grey background, and the projections are colored in rings, like a croquet mallet. There is a larger version of this painting "Confabulation I". "Confabulation II" is also large, but has a warm pink background with pale pink circles, cheerful and confident.

These paintings are about composition, and texture, rather than narrative, and Smith is a painstaking artist; the amount and quality of her detailing is impressive indeed. For those of us who enjoy narrative, she has provided one piece, "Small Talk", the smallest in the exhibition, where each side of a painting is not symmetrical. Instead, the left side is clearly a man, the right side clearly a woman, and the shape of their "bodies" so well-suited to each other that we know they were made to mate. And yet the bristles of paint emerging from each suggests, wittily, that they may never get together - I liked it a lot.

Charlotte Smith: Paint Rhetoric continues through May 24, Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose. Open Tuesday through Friday 10:30 to 6, Saturday 10:30 to 5, and by appointment, 713-524-2299. Information at www.anyatishgallery.com.

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