Artist Of The Week: Dwight Smith, Contain Yourself

Got The Blues   (7" x 10") and   Bird Bath   (22.5" x 30") and   Migrantis Interrutio   (8" x 8"), by Dwight Smith, watercolors 

Got The Blues (7" x 10") and Bird Bath (22.5" x 30") and Migrantis Interrutio (8" x 8"), by Dwight Smith, watercolors 

Centuries ago, humans made a universal decision that a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush. While old adages should never be tampered with or mocked, this avian hierarchy begs a few questions. Dwight Smith asks them with droll, bird-themed watercolors, Got The Blues, Migrantis Interrutio, and Bird Bath. They ask, compared to a bird in the hand, how worthy is, say, a rubber bird in a water-filled basin? Or, one atop a cactus? And, how does this handheld bird hold up to a real bird in a bowl full of blueberries? The potential for iterations has no limit; nothing attracts more birds than an opened can of worms.

When considered in relationship to the bird-in-the-hand proverb, Dwight Smith’s hyper-specific bird scenarios reveal a profound insight into the ways we evaluate our experiences. Value is predicated on containers or conditions. “In the hand” is a more valuable clause than “in the bush.” With this logic, every scenario has value-altering potential. Dwight's birds take this to a new extreme. They follow a situation-based line of logic most famously portrayed in Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs And Ham. (Which seems fitting for a portfolio that is so narrowly within the recommended dietary allowance of eggs.) Would we, could we if the external factors or current situation were different?  

Birds and the things that can contain birds is just one of the many categories Dwight explores. Throughout his portfolio, he invokes a sense of containment through inward-focused subject matter. He contracts and expands the scope of this containment. There is a very-small scale (physical containers), a medium scale (imagery from the domestic sphere), and a large, national scale (American-invented or manufactured objects). While one may think that “containment” implies constriction, narrowness, or limitations, Dwight’s dilating frame of reference shows how “containment” can be remarkably capaciousness, and even enhancing.

One version of containment in Dwight’s portfolio is the rigorous organization of household objects. The sheer number and variety of containers makes it a significant theme. There are the obvious containers one might find in a kitchen cabinet (mugs, bowls, cups, jars, bottles, bags, cartons, and baskets). There are the natural containers one might find on a walk (shells, eggs, and nests). And, there are the edible containers one might find at lunchtime (a taco shell, a hamburger bun, and sandwich bread). When placed in context, the theme of containment remains intact. The objects are drawn from the domestic sphere, which references a personal or familial containment. Furthermore, nearly all the objects are American inventions: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, rubber ducks, party balloons, baseballs, clothespins, cracker jacks, chocolate chip cookies, cheeseburger, Vernor’s ginger ale, toy cars, Band-Aids, and even the hard-shell taco are all United States creations.

Dwight pays a great deal of attention to the ways in which the world is organized, separated, and mediated. But, also to the ways in which those containers are defied. While these systems of organization are elaborate, Dwight’s art often points out their shortcomings. He always infuses a sense of motion by showing objects on the brink of bursting from their containers. Bottles teeter, jelly oozes, peppers topple, and eggs roll. This not only puts the viewer in a perpetual anticipation of a mess, but also reminds us that situations are constantly changing, and therefore, value is not a constant.

In a painting, however, teetering, oozing, toppling, and rolling are empty threats. Luckily, Dwight is brilliant. He has devised a strategy that changes the experience of each painting: titles. Dwight Smith is a wordsmith; he is just as adroit with language as he is with a paintbrush. Fried Chicken is a fried egg. With Cream and Sugar is a mug filled with a cupcake. A Stroll Along The Green is a ladybug walking past green pears. Each title is a witty twist that causes the viewer to look at the paintings in an entirely new way. The titles actualize the situation- and value-shift suggested by the subject matter. The paintings change the meaning of the words, and the words change the meaning of the painting.