The Visual Arts department is pleased to welcome back recent graduate Robert Smerdon as the first Artist-in-Residence for this academic year. Robert will be here for three weeks, working in the Old Dairy painting studios to produce a body of work that will reference and appropriate elements from Edward James’ personal art collection, much of which is still kept on the West Dean Estate.
As an introduction to his practice in general and as a statement of intent concerning his residency, Robert gave a fascinating presentation in West Dean House. Accompanied by images surveying the development of his work over the last few years – including his time spent at the New York Studio School prior to acquiring a Masters Degree at West Dean College – Robert touched upon a number of insistent themes and art historical references. The development of his committment to questioning what it means to make paintings in the contemporary context, in a world suffused with digital imagery and post-production manipulation techniques, has appealed to a number of art historical touchstones, ranging from masterworks by Poussin and Titian, the late studio paintings of Georges Braque, the highly coloured canvases of Henri Matisse and the visible labour of observation evident in the canvases of William Coldstream and Euan Uglow.
Robert’s stressed emphasis on the processes of continual looking and responding in painting, as well as an engagement with how drawing and colour are combined (as he put it “synchronised”), has led onto his explicit appropriation of selected elements from recognisable images – for example, working from the compositional structure of a painting by Poussin, using it as a departure point in terms of his own inquiry into how paintings are constructed and encountered. Even more interestingly, Robert has combined this with an interest in postmodern architectural forms and cardboard maquettes, which he builds and lights in his studio in order to refer to them as structural reference points for his own painted compositions.
Robert will give another talk on the evening of Tuesday 18th December in the Old Library – further details to follow.