Our next Artist You Need To Know of 2021 is someone who was described by curator Ann MacDonald as producing works that “are densely concentrated and ambitious….His desire to share his reactions to life and impressions of consumerism, industrialism and the rat race inform the built up, layered works. They are equal parts oil painting, sculpture and assemblage, each created layer upon layer, ultimately lending a physical and emotional depth to his metaphors. Created using anything from dollar store purchases to sculpted wood to found objects, the works share his reactions with candid honesty and immediacy.”
Peter Smith (1959 – 2009) was a unique artist, whose works are almost always immediately recognizable. He started on his path when he began taking art lessons in lieu of rent from an artist who lived above his father’s store. Later, he studied at the Ontario College of Art, and also worked as a preparator at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation in Toronto. He was previously represented by Birch Libralato (now Birch Contemporary, in Toronto), and his works can be found in collections such as Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt and the City of Toronto. Smith was awarded Second Prize in Ernst and Young’s Great Canadian Printmaking Competition, in 2004.
The most significant exhibition of his work was You May Find Yourself (curated by Ann MacDonald, and organized by the Doris McCarthy Gallery in partnership with the College Art Galleries and the Robert McLaughlin Gallery). MacDonald offered the following about Smith’s evocative and delightfully overwhelming artworks: ”Smith’s much-too-much is the every day. Our familiar consumer society; a deluge of images, sights, sounds, hustle-bustle and debris that make up the whole of our world, the one to which we are accustomed….In these works you can sense that overwhelming feeling of being in that crowded concert venue, with the noise impossible to block out.”
Smith’s works are like frenetic snapshots, bursting out in multiple directions. In many of his massive works that nearly fill a wall, while also having sculptural elements that push outwards, Smith “crowds his canvases with information, trying to convey the simple act of “simultaneously reading the paper and watching the television as an experience of accelerated time, enabling volumes of information and events to conflate in the past, present and future.” (MacDonald) The artworks that Smith produced over his lifetime are both defined by, and in defiance of, perhaps, his struggle with Schizoaffective Disorder: this became a factor in his life in his late twenties, but his work was a marker of when he was healthy, and can be seen as a very personal diary (with humour, but much honesty) of his world and experiences.
The aforementioned retrospective exhibition of Smith’s works, You May Find Yourself, “is comprised primarily of wall assemblages, sculptures, and large-scale prints. The exhibition also includes a video component—set up as unassuming vignettes, Peter describes his experience with mental illness. With a calm composure that belies his compulsive assemblages, he appears bemused by his experiences and is candid in his sharing. These videos are poignant, gentle in tone and subtly humourous. Consistent with his assemblages and prints, they present yet another facet to the diversity of understandings with which viewers may approach the world.”
In the accompanying book to You May Find Yourself, Smith is quoted as saying “perhaps it is a little scary but the mystery surrounds us and is us and one can only look on with wonder.”
A thoughtful reflection on his life can be read here.