Marking a new entry in his ongoing practice of obsessive painterly documentation and flowing, lyrical canvases, artist Josh Smith has opened a string of shows at David Zwirner in New York and London, continuing his exploration of landscape and space, here focusing on a series of empty streetscapes. Reflecting on the experience of creating these new works during the 2020 pandemic, the artist’s work explores the meaning of creativity and artistic purpose in the midst of global crisis.
The show stems from Smith’s wanderings about New York City during the early days of the pandemic, with streets emptied of people and cars, and the city’s once teeming fabric conspicuously absent. His home, once filthy and bustling with trucks, was now a site for open exploration and meandering, allowing him a renewed perspective on the space and neighborhoods, walking freely from site to site and reveling in the newfound adventure of his longtime home. The paintings followed.
These works capture Smith’s signature style of swirling quasi-abstraction, rendering streets and buildings in a loping, cooly-rendered hand that draws the viewer into a similar sense of flow and movement. Here, presenting the static landscapes of a once busy urban landscape, his energy and color charges these sites, as if they were inhabited with the ghosts of a city long gone. For those living through these strange days in New York, the sense of abandoned lifestyles and paused lives is palpable, and eerily familiar. The artist’s work continues with an expansive mural depicting a flowing, seemingly endless string of streets and buildings, twisting these cityscapes into an unbroken line of doors and windows, lampposts and storefronts. Smith seems to revel in the city as grid, its series of convergences and hard angles offering a relief from the uncertainty of the coronavirus and its impact on the world. The works slowly emerge as a site for that relief, a therapeutic depiction of the world as it is, abstracted, however, from the panic and anxiety that filled so many empty spaces during the months of 2020. Painting his way through the city, Smith seems to seek, and possibly find, a way to come to terms with how this disease has affected our world, and our ties to the physical sites around us.
The show closes October 31st.
– D. Creahan
Josh Smith at David Zwirner [Exhibition Site]