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Geoffrey Todd Smith's Diaristic Abstractions


Geoffrey creates paintings based on a grid, forcing the eye to twirl and race off the edge of his pieces through cyclical marks based in bright, eye-pounding shades. Spending almost as much time on the title as the actual piece, Geoffrey creates controversial text dripping in sleaze and wit which encourages the audience to penetrate his mind during the paintings’ elongated conception.

I\W: Do you usually begin a piece by first mapping circles across the work?
GTS: Yeah, I do a quick little grid and then I do my best to fill it in. I paint it all freehand and then draw on top of it all freehand after that. There is nothing that is taped off, I just start. The larger shapes I decide to paint are all about how I want the speed or the rhythm of the painting to go. The ellipses drag you on a little more through the piece, and the circles don’t do that as much. It depends. I will also use strands of painted beads to drag the eye across the works.

How have your detailed works shifted throughout the 14 years you have been painting them?
They were much more drawing oriented at the beginning, all stuff on paper for the most part. I just doodled at the beginning. For five or six months every day I would just make marks on paper. Back then I would just draw whenever I could. When I first started off I didn’t have a studio, so I just sat on the couch and watched soap operas all day—General Hospital and One Life to Live. I don’t know what their influence was, but it was always this thing that was on when I was a kid. I would just draw in the background when my mother was watching them. I would also put pieces of paper down and do rubbings of my grandmother’s crocheted table cloths.


What influences have added to the vibratory nature of your paintings?
I don’t remember. There were definitely influences from these wavy forms I did when I was in 5th or 6th grade. We had to write our name out and keep following the pattern of our names and expand outward. Some of my work comes right out of little kid doodles. I did a lot of Pointillism drawings when I was a kid, and that was the first time that anyone ever told me that I was good at something and I was like, ‘YES, I am good at this!’ It’s weird how some of this stuff is brought back in a way and uses the simplest means necessary to make something that is really intense.


Would you say each of your works is a meditation on a moment?
Yeah, I think so. It is a time period, a short time period. When it takes two weeks to work on something it is just slow and tedious and my mind can be on sports radio, or I can listen to Purple Rain like 18 times. I will just have a CD that I will play over and over again. I will get up with the idea that I am going to change it—and then just play it again. I used to be really into album covers, and the Purple Rain cover has lots of floral and is very effective.

I make the titles very similarly to how I make the decisions in the paintings. It’s working back and forth with this pendulum so if I make a mistake or create a tension in the corner, I do that with words too.


If a piece is becoming too static for you, how do you imbue energy into the painting?
Usually what happens is I will change something by painting an area out. In previous paintings I would have just continued the pattern I had created out to the edges so you imagine this thing going on forever. By placing forms to interrupt the pattern, it creates tension on the edges. Everything is compressed into the space. Because it has a weird sag to it, it implies that everything has been pressed into the space. That’s one way of doing it. Sometimes I like interference. I am interested how in music feedback or droning noises can function along with melodic decisions. How can I make something pleasant, but also have this interference or arrhythmia to it? I like thinking about the flat surface in terms of being able to make things go forward and come back. Something that if you look at it one way you choose to put things forward, and then you can choose to make something else pop in its place. This happens with my draping ones especially because they don’t have a real perspective, they have the ability to go backward and forward simultaneously.


Do you mix the paint you utilize?
Lately, within the last few years, I have gone out of my way to never mix. It is all about whatever is available to me. I don’t mix the ink obviously, but I choose not to mix the paint too. The mixing is all optical. It’s all about layering and proximity. How does ink sit on paint? How does enamel sit on a matte wash? I am interested in taking all of these things that anyone can do, but when you see one of my pieces you know that I made it. I am trying to find my personality in something that is available to everyone.


Can you look at a piece and remember what you were listening to, watching, or experiencing at the time?
Sometimes. I tend towards dark and depressing music. I feel like that can kind of influence my work. When I am making a small piece I feel like I’m writing a love letter, it is more diaristic. Whether I am thinking about certain colors because I love this girl, or thinking this dude would like these colors because he likes these football teams, I will often think of certain people to just speculate what they would like—but I’m always wrong.


Why are you drawn to put yourself so obviously into your titles?
Because of how obsessive I am with making them. They are abstractions, and there are also references from other things. They are visual experiences from all of these different moments in my life—moments in our life in general. Some of it is shared stuff. It’s about making a connection with people. Sometimes I will make references that are puns, and sometimes they feel familiar because they are romantic—we have all had experiences with those feelings. A lot of them are quick titles, but maybe a bit dirty. I have one with black flowers on the bottom of the painting that is just called “Black Bottom.” There is something very obviously true about that, but it is also a little sleazy too. I make the titles very similarly to how I make the decisions in the paintings. It’s working back and forth with this pendulum so if I make a mistake or create a tension in the corner, I do that with words too. I will use words that have a certain kind of repetition or vibration to them, or words that rhyme. The titles don’t illustrate the paintings, but they do give some sense into my mindset.

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