David L. Smith likes to make people laugh. And he’s good at it.
Not a lot of visual artists are interested in words and wordplay. Many scrupulously avoid the verbal realm altogether and seem to operate in the murky, mysterious world of pure imagery at all times. Not Mr. Smith. He takes titles of novels, famous lines from movies, and common figures of speech and twists them to fit an image that is just as familiar. This one-two punch of the right picture with the right words is meant to raise a chuckle or a belly-laugh, and constitutes the bulk of the artwork in David’s solo show set to open on Saturday, Aug. 12 at Gallery Sitka West in Fitchburg.
Even the title of the artist’s show—“One-Liners: The Art of Irony”—contains a play on words. The “Art” refers to the Mr. Smith’s long-cultivated skills as a painter and digital artist, but it’s also about the art of deftly delivering a punch line as a comedian or a storyteller does.
Imagine, for example, a striking, immediately recognizable portrait of Margaret Thatcher imbedded in a slice of brown bread. The title, of course: “Thatcher in the Rye.” Or think of one of Hollywood’s best-known faces, that of Jack Nicholson. Superimpose that portrait on a smooth, white surface in the shape of a tooth. The title of the piece takes the famous line from the early ’90s drama “A Few Good Men” and alters it slightly. The result is a painting called “You Can’t Handle the Tooth.”
Woodworker, sculptor, painter, digital artist—it’s hard to classify David L. Smith because he works in many diverse media, including glass etching in recent years. David takes art lovers on a roller-coaster ride of images, employing a bewildering array of media and techniques.
Painter Paul Gauguin, always ruthlessly blunt, once remarked: “Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” Mr. Smith does not apologize for what some might say is plagiarism in his most recent paintings. “My work has evolved a lot in the last four or five years,” he says. He is having a lot of fun doing take-offs and put-ons of popular images, and for the time being he has left revolution to other artists.
Mr. Smith created the pieces for this show by way of a fairly complicated four-step process. He begins with a photograph purloined (or, umm…plagiarized) from an online source, usually a headshot of a well-known pop-culture personality. But right there the plagiarism ends. David then takes that image, which is more likely than not composed of pixels, and converts it into a vector image, teasing a line drawing out of the original photo using Adobe Illustrator. Then the artist melts this drawing down to its essence in the form of a stencil, which he then finally uses as the outline into which he pours color. Various distortions or modifications take place at each step, and the final piece is nothing like “cut-and-paste” collage or decoupage. It’s a painting that has a lot more in common with the surrealist and pop art traditions of such figures as Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol than with collage.
Beginning his career by earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University’s Program in Artisanry in 1987, Mr. Smith has managed a furniture restoration business for the past 23 years. He and his wife of 28 years, ceramics artist Collette Shumate Smith, relocated to Fitchburg in 1991, where David earned a teaching certificate in Technology Education at Fitchburg State College. He has been exhibiting his furniture and wood sculptures regionally and nationally for three decades. His early work emphasized functionality but in recent years has become much more decorative and conceptual. He concedes, in his refreshing way, that sometimes he is “just trying to get a laugh” by way of his artwork.
The opening will take place at Gallery Sitka West, 454 Main St., in Fitchburg, Mass., 2 – 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12. While Mr. Smith’s work will grace the Solo Wall, the engaging work of portrait photographer Jonathan Route will be featured on the south wall. Mr. Route, with studios in both Leominster and Clinton, specializes in bringing out the personalities of his subjects in a natural, relaxed atmosphere. He is also known for creating explosively colorful and playful images. Photography fans will want to check out jroutephoto.com in advance of the show.