Anj Smith Habitations

by Alain Chivilò


From 9/11/2023 to 13/1/2024 the exhibition “Anj Smith. Driting Habitations” at Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York.

Latest artworks, first solo in NY in nearly a decade. As announced, the British artist is known for intimate, intricately rendered canvases exploring themes of identity, eroticism, anxiety and ecology. With these new painting she is trying to put in evidence notions of atopia, a concept beautifully elucidated by Roland Barthes as drifting habitations, through subverting the genre of the female nude. Set within ecologically devastated landscapes, Smith’s gorgeous but unsettling canvases challenge the notion of fixed locations and invite us to consider the fluidity of our experiences and perceptions of the world. Several works on view in the exhibition will feature solitary female figures immersed in water. Vibrating with an atmosphere of impending tempest, these paintings evoke rising tides and by extension, hint at the prospect of an approaching natural disaster. 

As highlighted, for example, the pose of the figure in But Tell it Slant (picture here present) calls to mind the famous goddess central to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (1485 – 86). In contrast to Botticelli’s celebration of love and beauty, Smith’s painting refuses to offer a clear narrative; its title refers to another familiar masterpiece of the past, Emily Dickinson’s poem Tell All the Truth, wherein the reader is advised to tell the truth, but obliquely and incrementally. Smith’s painting exemplifies her interest in playing with ideas of mimicry, veiling and obfuscation, accounting for her tactic of leaving sections of composition more legible than others. The viewer can only ‘read’ the wealth of detail in her work and thereby discover what is being revealed, what is being withheld when the eye and brain are slowed, submitting to time.

Anj Smith. born in 1978 in Kent, England, studied at Slade School of Fine Art and at Goldsmiths College, both in London, UK, where she continues to be based. Smith’s paintings are rich in detail, color and texture, collapsing strict definitions of portraiture, landscape and still-life whilst allowing elements of each to co-exist. Her wildly feral landscapes, ambiguous figures, textiles, and rare and exotic flora and fauna investigate the possibility of a contemporary sublime. Drawing upon sources as disparate as the works of Pontormo, entomology and the couture of Madam Grès (as examples), Smith weaves archaic traditions and contemporary signs together into a personal cosmos. In Smith’s luscious visual language, she embraces the instability of meaning, exploring shifting boundaries, disintegration and the liminal.


©AC, NDSL, AM, Alain Chivilo

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