Paul Anthony Smith at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

Paul Anthony Smith at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. Photo credit: Kristine Schomaker.

Paul Anthony Smith: Containment

at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
Through October 13th


By Mario Vasquez
When people migrate away from their homeland to a new place, fleeing from persecution, war, or seeking a new life and opportunity, a migrant’s experiences, culture, language and history are contained within that person’s being. When coming to the United States, each migrant is a container bringing with them something new that creates both struggle and agreement. Brooklyn-based Jamaican-born artist Paul Anthony Smith seeks to explore the contradictions that are created as each migrant is a container that brings conflict between the old and new; and thus, the concern is always between the internal and external.


The idea behind the word “Containment” involves something that is contained within a space, and what is outside of the confined. Smith presents two bodies of photo-based work, which explore identity as a Jamaican immigrant who emigrates to the United States. As an artist and an immigrant, the idea of containment suggest that the artist is keeping something within and not divulging. Thus Smith asks how do we as immigrants contain our identities when becoming an American? The first and most compelling clue are within the photo collage works. In his picotage works, Smith picks into the surface of a printed photograph with a sharp tool to produce prismatic geometries employing diamond, stripe, and triangle patterns. These surface disruptions grow out of earlier works referencing African masks and effectively create analog time-stamps with distance and space between the anonymity of the figures and patterns.

Smith places the viewer within the vantage point of the “other.” These portraits and photos of friends, family and acquaintances are “filtered” within the contained vision of a culture that exists in both the present and the past. Within the new and the old, the patterns are still there. They pervade a culture, which remains within the artist despite leaving his native Jamaica, a country that has a history of colonialism and slavery. This is a legacy of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. The photographs are revelatory in their revealing something that may not be seen by the naked eye, but by the cultural eye; the eye of the “other” in a strange and new land. By employing the pocks and collaging the photographs, Smith is creating a subjective vision that connects multiple cultures in the present.

The other body of work Gray Area, photographs are translated into silkscreen paintings in which blocks of images are stacked onto the surface, creating grids that suggest a marking of territory and remapping of memory. Smith’s Gray Area works are more meditative. They reflect the relationship between memory and loss. When someone leaves his homeland and settles into a new land and culture, there is a sense of loss. These works depict a landscape with people that are blurred or blended within. Smith is making a statement about one’s relationship between the land left behind and the land that exists after the exile; in someone’s recollection. The distance between the land left behind and the memory is translated within time and distance. As distance and time increase the space, the recollection of the landscape and culture becomes blurred and distorted. In this respect, the containment fails as distance and time disintegrates the old.

Smith’s body of work reflects on the concept of “Containment” as both something that successfully contains an identity when confronted with a new land and new-found identity, and its failure as distance and memory begins to erode the sense of place. This is an excellent show. Smith shows an adroitness in his treatment of both subject matter and medium. The experience of each work brings the viewer an intimate vision of the artist’s experiences as an immigrant. Smith explores the legacy that he brings with him and the new-found world that is now home.

HOURS:  Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm, and by Appointment
The gallery is closed Sunday and Monday


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