In his latest exhibition Martin Smith further investigates the formal language of the vessel and the way that it can both contain a space and define a place. He analyses the poetic qualities of mathematics and geometry and develops new approaches to surface illusion. Using his previous show with Marsden Woo Gallery (Red and Black with Blue and Yellow, 2015) and its exploration of the archetype of the vase as a jumping-off point, Smith drops the scale of this new body of work to that of the cup, mug or beaker for an exploration of the geometric intersection of cylinders and cubes.
Picking up on concerns that go back to the mid-80s in which he explored different planes within the cylinder, and making direct reference to his 1990 series of cup pieces, Smith revisits these threads and pulls them further. There is a continuum running throughout his work and themes appear in different ways, driving through every series of work. This forthcoming show comprises a group of thirteen sculptures, all an exploration around the theme of space. While on a smaller scale to his previous work, these new forms feature jutting sections that project outwards - occupying yet another dimension - and seem to demand as much space as his larger pieces. Repetition of shapes can be seen in particular pairing pieces: they are partners but remain singular.
He analyses the poetic qualities of mathematics and geometry and develops new approaches to surface illusion.
Smith moves away from the red and white earthenware of previous work to using parian. This series of work is cast, but each sculpture is individual and unique. The pristine nature of the material’s marble-like appearance, echoed in the geometric purity of the piece, is then juxtaposed by areas of rough, patterned texture closer to the erosion of an organic material than the precision of the ground and polished surface that has characterised Smith’s recent work. He utilises a more monochromatic palette offset with defined areas of graphic imagery fired on to certain segments; immaculate white outer sections contrast with matt dark interiors in which the depth of the piece is not immediately visible. Hints of brightly coloured geometric patterns are fired on to smoother surface areas of these monochromatic forms, appearing more complex according to their environment. He has remarked that ‘through subtle shifts extraordinary things happen’ and it is in this creation of space within the piece and of the piece - part real and part illusion, part solid and part negative – that the viewer can observe a true demonstration of Smith’s architectural language.
A key figure in British ceramics, Martin Smith continually pushes boundaries in his practice. He refers to his technique as ‘…not textbook, but a hybrid approach. Thinking defines the process rather than being defined by the process.’ Whether it is creating a diamond burr stylus apparatus to incise moiré patterns on vessel pieces by hand in his 2013 body of work Static Field or in this particular series’ inventive parian moulding techniques, Smith always has a clear idea of what he wants the end result to be, but often has to invent a way to get there. In his practice there is deep significance to continually challenging himself through setting constraints and experimenting within them. This new exhibition signals a major shift in the artist’s choice of materials and scale as he plays with dualities and oppositions throughout.
Siobhan Feeney is the Director of Marsden Woo Gallery, Belgravia, London, UK.