Where Y'at Magazine

MAY 2009

May 2–31
On display at Soren Christensen Gallery
400 Julia St., 569-9501

I counted exactly 20 birds, though it seemed coincidental.  An even number like that was most likely not planned.  It’s 70 inches x 70 inches, made of canvas and oil and is purely convincing.  It is of course Ed Smith’s “The Raft.”

There is a touch of the absurd in Smith’s work.  With his latest pieces portraying the multiple different species of birds that currently inhabit Louisiana, it’s not simple nature-still-life paintings that Smith is after, though.  With only their heads and necks poking out of a large mass of feathers and flesh, much of Bad Nature is wildlife conflicting with the civilized life, i.e. good old concrete human development.  Smith combines realism with bright surreal surroundings, producing an image only possible when imagined.  

Now living in Baton Rouge as an associate professor of painting at Louisiana State University, he has seen a past that began in Naples, Italy, followed through to receiving his MFA.  He then moved on to teach painting and drawing to those younger individuals who were seeking the same vocation at Louisiana State University.

On the second piece that really caught my eye, I couldn’t count the birds.  Too intertwined and too much color to do that.  With large-scale paintings depicting birds and wildlife, Smith states that he tries “to address [his] political concerns and also address the

inherent difficulties that occur at the boundaries of the wild and developed world.”

The brightness and hilarity of the paintings can bring out a variety of reactions, a variety that is further varied when the viewer learns of the artist’s intent.  When I went back and viewed the paintings a second time, having read the stated meaning behind the images, suddenly, the comic relief of so many tangled birds that seems inherent in the pieces can be more akin to suffering.  Suddenly, the birds are trapped within themselves and another invisible exterior boundary.  They were no longer simply playing about, getting wrapped up in goofy wildlife games.  No matter how much we’d prefer to imagine that animals out there in the wilderness are simply toying around having fun, it has to be realized that they are also being encroached upon and penned up in their own habitat, surrounded by humans.

For the past two years, Smith has been working on more pieces to further depict his views on the border between development and wildlife. He continues in an effort to produce awareness for the cause of conservation, an awareness that for himself began as a crew member of the conservation ship Sea Shepherd.  Now, years later and back on land, he has the resources and skills to portray his cause in a manner that is both effective and aesthetic.  They say that an image is worth a thousand words.  Are you listening?

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