BCSFA CGP CPE OC RCA
1919 - 2020
acrylic on canvas
signed and on verso titled and dated 2008
60 x 72 in, 152.4 x 182.9 cm
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD
Sold for: $34,250
Equinox Gallery, Vancouver
Private Collection, Los Angeles
Andy Sylvester, editor, Gordon Smith: Don’t Look Back, 2014, essay by Ian Wallace, pages 22 and 121
Alexandra Gill, Globe and Mail, May 17, 2007 (updated April 25, 2018), para. 22, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/the-forest-the-sea-the-beach---that’s-my-imagery/article1076234, accessed January 23, 2020
Beaches, and all the materials that wash up on their shores, present rich possibilities for imagery, and Gordon Smith, who lived close to the ocean in West Vancouver, found this flotsam and jetsam an irresistible subject for a series of works. As he stated in a Globe and Mail article, “The landscape, the forest, the sea, the beach—that’s my imagery. But that’s just the starting point.” Importantly, Smith’s work was also about the qualities of paint itself—its handling, its textural and gestural manipulation.
Smith dealt with beach imagery over a number of years, and in various media. This outstanding canvas dates to 2008, and in that same year Smith produced a group of Beach Tangle photo collages. In 2009, Smith executed a large relief sculpture made from driftwood and other materials from local beaches for the West Vancouver Community Centre. At the same time, he also produced a hand-painted photo-based etching entitled Tangled Beach/Beach Tangle, to raise funds to support local arts. A large Beach Tangle painting, more abstract than the other works in this group, and suggestive of the work of Jean Paul Riopelle, is installed at Vancouver International Airport.
Around the time of this work, Smith was also working on paintings that showed forest scenes, some with ponds, full of overlaid grass and slender branch forms—so the entanglements of natural forms were much on his mind. These forest works, like the Beach Tangle series, varied from quite recognizable landscape elements to more abstract images. Our Beach Tangle is richly coloured and complex in its plethora of forms and in its use of space. From these shapes one can construe branches, lengths of jute from ships, and pieces of fishermen’s nets, cast up by the sea and strewn over driftwood and rocks. What immediately dominates are the pale branches, ranging from thicker ones to delicate tracery, that curve and curl over the surface—but below that, other forms rise from the depths. Smith’s use of white, gold and orange immediately strikes the eye, but the more one examines the work, the more colours appear, from grey, browns and green to dabs of maroon and blue.
His gestural handling of paint gives a free, organic feeling to his multi-layered painting. Ian Wallace described Smith’s approach in works such as this as follows: “The underpainting of patches of flickering and pulsating colour serves as a support for the spontaneous drift of the gestural marks riding across the surface. His marks are almost always a singular inscription of the brush dryly drifting across the texture of the multicoloured ground, often stuttering, stopping and starting, occasionally dynamically slashing over the underlying image as though to obliterate it, shifting direction spontaneously.”
Both the bravura handling of paint and the large scale of Beach Tangle have a visceral effect on the viewer, generated from Smith’s bold abstraction of his seashore subject. It is a particularly fine example of this series, imbued with a joyous energy that comes from Smith’s freedom with his subject matter and the gestural power of his brushwork.
Smith recently passed away at the age of 100 at his home in West Vancouver, and his passing leaves a big gap in the art world on the West Coast, and across Canada. He was an inspiration to many artists, a modernist who always examined what was fresh and exciting emerging from the art scene, and who allowed it to influence his work—he described himself as being “a hundred artists deep.” Smith was an important part of the early modernist scene in Vancouver, dating back to the 1950s—a scene which at that time included artists such as Lawren Harris, Jack Shadbolt and B.C. Binning. As the decades unfolded he continued to be at the forefront, a figure who symbolized continuity and bridged different times, ideas and generations of artists. He was a philanthropist who advocated for the arts, and his generosity in supporting arts groups was well known. His acknowledgments are many—he was named to the Order of Canada, won a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, and received the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, amongst other honours.
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD
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