Anj Smith, Uncurtaining the Night, 2014. Sara Hildén Foundation. Image: Jussi Koivunen
The exhibition on the Sara Hildén Art Museum’s top floor is Anj Smith’s (b. 1978) first solo show in Finland. It was while she was musing over titles for the exhibition that Smith discovered the Crinoidea – the sea lilies and feather stars. The Crinoidea developed slowly, but have still remained fundamentally the same. They take on new shapes in response to the prevailing circumstances and are intriguing in their complexity. For Smith they are a personal metaphor for painting.
Painting is at the heart of Anj Smith’s output. It as a subject, a technology, a personal language, and a cultural signifier. She finds painting in oils to be an especially rich way of rendering her subject matter. Her use of oils is highly diverse: thick, translucent layers of paint, details painted with a single-haired brush, and pigments squeezed straight from the tube.
The traditional subgenres of painting – landscape, portrait and still life – overlap in Smith’s works. They are psychological landscapes and indirect, oblique portraits of people who are no longer present, but who have left their mark in a variety of fine details. The human figures serve as vehicles with which Smith registers, for example, experiences of anxiety or alienation. She accentuates the eyes so as to direct the viewer’s attention towards the interior world. In her latest paintings Smith has addressed issues related to the fragility of identity, the complexity of gender, and more.
“My main medium is ideas," Anj Smith says, and combines traditional oil painting with conceptual contemporary art. Her sources of inspiration are manifold and stratified: psychology, literature, the limitations of language, nature, fashion, punk culture, and the history of painting; the everyday and the overlooked.