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January 29th, 2012


It stands to reason that the art of Beverly
A. Smith is so brilliantly saturated
with sunlight, since she lives and works
in Sarasota Florida. In fact, the painting
that she calls “Sarasota” could be seen as
her signature work, given its exuberant
chromatic explosions of yellow and verdant
green strokes, which
fi ll the canvas with a
sun-drenched sense of
Like other female
abstract painters before
her –– most particularly
Helen Frankenthaler and
Joan Mitchell –– Smith
presents a lush, positive,
and life-affi rming
answer to the miasma of
male angst that hangs
heavily over so much
contemporary art. A
delightful effusiveness is
what animates Smith’s
work in particular, with
its veritable showers of
luminous color. Indeed,
even though she is still
too young for her career
to have begun at the
time that the critic and
Abstract Expressionist
advocate Harold
Rosenberg coined the
phrase “action painting,” that designation
seems tailor-made for her.
For what Smith conveys in her
compositions, most of which are done
in thick impastos of oil paint applied to
the canvas with a palette knife rather
than brushes, is the spirit and emotional
energy of nature, rather than its outward
And while the sunlight that saturates
her present paintings is most immediately
that which warms her days in Sarasota, she
actually grew up in Boston, Massachusetts,
and only moved to Florida about three
years ago. Learning that she has been
inspired by the marshes in Falmouth or
Edgartown, Cape God, also goes a long
way toward explaining the total effect of a
painting such as “Tip Toe Marsh,” one of
her most exhilarating oils on canvas. For
in this, one of her most representational
canvases in its own unique way as well,
one can clearly discern the brilliant blue
waters and high grasses that make up such
wetlands, with their porous limestone
bedrock and dense, moist vegetation. In
Smith’s paintings, the tall grasses appear
as though scraped into the surface of the
pigment with the tip of the palette knife
or the handle of the brush, giving an
extra tactile dimension, as well as greater
chromatic subtlety, to the picture by
revealing the layers of yellow hues beneath
the green, lending yet another luminous
coloristic element to the picture. The entire
painting –– but especially the cerulean blue
water of the marsh –– shimmers with a
kind of succulence and refl ectiveness that
makes one think of Monet’s water lilies,
albeit laid down on canvas with looser
strokes that are more expressionistic than
impressionistic. The vigorous manner of
execution of the scored and scratched
grasses provides a lively contrast to the pure
yellow splash of sunlight that illuminates
the entire upper right portion of the
composition so brilliantly. Indeed, that
Smith adheres more to the spontaneous
energy of Expressionism, rather than the
quasi-scientifi c calculation of Impressionism
is what imbues her paintings with their
emotional content.
Perhaps this emotional component of
her work comes across most clearly in
“Acceptance,” a composition that appears
to mingle elements of both joy and
melancholy in its palette of pinks, blues,
and greens, laid down in vigorous strokes
in a mostly vertical direction. This canvas
could be said to be less representational
than “Tip Toe Marsh,” in that there is
not as much sense of the lay of the land
or the fl ow of the water as in the previous
painting. Rather, we are presented with
a juicy confi guration of forms pressing
forward on the two-dimensional space
of the picture plane that convey a feeling
more clearly than they suggest an image,
an experiential –– and therefore emotional
–– impression that resonates and hints as to
the possible meaning of the title.
By contrast, somewhat more tumultuous
emotions appear to be evoked in the
painting that Smith calls “Restraint,”
where a whirlwind of strokes in somewhat
uncharacteristically darker tonalities swirls
over the entire surface of the composition
with a stormy energy. Indeed, here, Smit
demonstrates that,
unlike many abstract
painters who settle on a
trademark style in order
to make their work more
uniformly marketable,
she is not willing to
restrict her palette or
to endlessly repeat the
same motifs for the sake
of achieving stylistic
consistency. Rather,
apparently subscribing
to the belief that “style
is character,” she trusts
in the authenticity of
her emotions and the
strength of her own
character to carry the
work forward, trusting
that the perceptive
viewer will be able to
discern for him or herself
the deeper consistency
that she strives for in all
the varied facets of her
creative oeuvre.
That Smith, while working primarily
from nature, also gives free reign to
imagination as well, can only be surmised
from another somewhat anomalous
composition that she calls “Bedouins II.”
For although one always risks being misled
(not to mention misleading the reader)
when one takes the title of any abstract
painting too literally, in this work the
small forms, partially obscured here and
there within an expansive vortex of pinkish
pigment, could indeed suggest the slow
progress of desert nomads making their
way through a sand storm.
At the same time, however, to search for
too many specifi c meanings in the work of
a painter such as Beverly A. Smith is to miss
the larger point of her ambitious artistic
project. For it is the autonomous aesthetic
attributes of paintings such as these that
provide the viewer with deeper and more
relevant riches of enjoyment. And it is the
manner in which the artist activates her
materials to recreate the experience of the
visual world, rather than merely copying its
superfi cial aspects, that fi nally lends Smith’s
paintings their truly transcendent appeal.
–– Byron Coleman
Beverly A. Smith’s Happy Marriage of Nature and Transcendence
Beverly A. Smith,
New Century Artists Gallery,
530 West 25th Street, March 1 - 19. 941-504-0792