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An Interview with Geoffrey Todd Smith

By Lauri Apple in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 3, 2009 5:20PM

07_Graceful_Ghost.jpg Recognized by Chicago Magazine as a "rising star" whose works you should add to your collection, Geoffrey Todd Smith uses ink and gouache to produce intricate, colorful patterns of geometric shapes. In his latest batch, Smith has applied the status message format of Facebook and Twitter to come up with catchy titles that provide little flashes of insight into the thoughts and moods he felt when making his works. Today Western Exhibitions hosts an opening reception for two exhibitions featuring Smith: Geoffrey Todd Smith is a Friend to Beauty! in one gallery, and I Could Look at Myself in Your Eyes Forever in the other. 5-8 p.m. 119 N Peoria St, Suite 2A. We spoke with Todd earlier this week about art, social networking and colors.

Chicagoist: How did you decide, with this batch of new works, to title them as status messages?

Geoffrey Todd Smith: I started writing possible titles on Facebook to see what kind of responses they would get. It was really just for fun, and it seemed kind of silly. I never intended to keep them as status reports. After a while, I just preferred to place the focus on myself and make bold declarations about my thoughts, moods and the things that were distracting me at the moment each drawing was being made. I have never really liked titles for abstract work that tried to narrate; I prefer titles that are more open and provide a bit of a poetic resonance. If these Internet and text messaging-based status updates should fade away, my titles for these works will still function as declarations by the guy who made them at that particular time and place.

C: Is social networking influencing your art in other ways besides titles?

GTS: Yes. But that is just part of the techno haze that engulfs us. I am equally affected by other forms of technology and the immersion in a constant buzz of information. It can be so distracting, and very out-of-step with the focus needed to make these types of hand-drawn images. With this body of work, I really tried to find beauty through the hiss of these marks that vibrate like an annoying computer or television monitor, but are still able to invite or even comfort -- like an optically dazzling quilt.

C: If you had to give a class on color theory, what would you discuss or emphasize?

GTS: I am not really a big color wheel guy. When I discuss color with my students, I ask a lot of questions that seem kind of vague, but are really important things to consider. For example: What kind of personality are you trying to give a painting or drawing? What kind of mood are you trying to present with each image? How does a color function historically, and does that affect the viewer's perception of your work? I talk a lot about the temperature of a color or color relationship. Also, I really encourage them to forget about what they imagined and respond to what they are seeing. Discovery through color is so important!

C: Your works are so intricate. How did you develop the patience to carry out such detailed work?

GTS: I am very competitive and determined, so that helps. I have never had a lyrical or gestural personality as an artist. It just isn't in me. The first time I noticed an ability to focus or fixate for long periods of time was while playing with puzzles, video games, and activities that required solving a problem.

In the sixth grade, I had an assignment in art class that really struck me. We had to make a mosaic image of a bird on colorful construction paper. The mosaic was made using a hole punch. I remember loving the way it looked. Shortly after I remember being shocked by pointillism. My subjects for the first drawings of that type were Fat Albert and Prince. I felt like I could make anything seem important. Those projects stick with me more than all the years in art school.

C: Are you comfortable telling us one of the stories behind your titles? Like, the funniest, or the most memorable?

GTS: I was working on a drawing in the living room of my girlfriend's mom's house. I couldn't find the remote for the television, so I just left it on. Unfortunately, Titanic was on, with commercials and all. It is so loaded with clich├ęs, that I felt like I needed to use one for the title of the drawing I was making -- which happened to be this obsessively decorative, pink drawing. At one point, the old woman who plays the grown-up "Rose" character says, "A woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets." I agreed. But, what about my heart's secrets? Hence, Geoffrey Todd Smith's Heart Is a Deep Ocean of Secrets.

C: You cite fashion as one of your visual influences. What designers or designs in current fashion are catching your eye?

GTS: I never really intended to reference specific designers. I was referring to the zig and zag of cultural trends in fashion. A willingness to aggressively combine conventionally mismatched items. It might not match, but it goes. If anything, I meant a creativity that comes from resurrecting clothing from a thrift store or your parents' closet. It could even mean fashions that exist regardless of clothing.

C: Do you have a favorite piece in this exhibition? Which one, and why?

GTS: Geoffrey Todd Smith Would Prefer Not to Talk About It. It is one of the bigger ones, and one of the most recent. For me it has an inviting tone that I was chasing throughout the whole body of work. It is so cold and purple, but it pulls you in like grape juice (when you are a kid). It is sweet and comforting. I actually called it that because I don't want to talk about it!

Western Exhibitions' hours are Wednesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.