Paul Anthony Smith, Untitled, 2018-19, unique picotage on inkjet print mounted on museum board, 40 x 60 inches, courtesy of the artist and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
The 31-year-old Brooklyn-based artist Paul Anthony Smith is definitely hot. He has recently had a short article in the “Metropolitan” section of The New York Times and a profile in T Magazine. And he currently has a striking solo exhibition at both of the Jack Shainman Chelsea galleries, one at 513 West 20th Street and a second at 524 West 24th Street.
While his art is photography-based, it is difficult to label Smith a photographer. His process indeed begins by taking a photograph. But after printing his image, he then creates what appears to be a white decorative pattern over this initial picture by pricking the paper with a special tool, making tiny vertical triangles that reveal the paper’s white underside, a process that he calls “picotage.” On occasion the integrity of the photograph is further compromised by the addition of spray paint.
Paul Anthony Smith, Only in America, unique picotage with spray paint on inkjet print mounted on museum board, 58 x89.5 x 2 inches, courtesy of the artist and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
But Smith’s white overlay of decorative design is not as abstract as it looks. He is originally from Jamaica, and his patterning is based on Caribbean breeze-block fences or walls, and in some instances, Caribbean design and decoration in general. The stippling of the surface also references African scarification, an act that reached even further back into African-Caribbean history.
Smith’s photographic imagery is equally Caribbean. Among his subjects are the annual West Indian Day Parade on Eastern Parkway, individual portraits of Caribbean New Yorkers, and Caribbeans socializing in Brooklyn.
Paul Anthony Smith, Dead No Have No Reason, 2918-19, unique picotage on inkjet print mounted on museum board, 40 x 60 inches, courtesy of the artist and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Wire fences also appear in many of Smith’s photographic images. Like the decorative cinderblock fences, this motif has a dual function, since it simultaneously suggests protection and restriction. The fencing evokes the numerous barriers immigrants face upon coming to the States, as well as their isolation and need for security and protection. And the fragmentation of Smith’s compositions reflects the unsettled fragmented state of the people of the Caribbean diaspora, as they attempt to assimilate into a new life and redefine themselves.
And this metaphorical language is the strength of Smith’s art. His laborious modification of the original photographic image is fraught with meaning. And the work is indeed laborious, easily taking a full week of pricking paper for a single picture, the long solitary days of repetitive, almost meditative motions ameliorated by listening to jazz and hip-hop.
This is a must-see this spring.