In vibrant oil paintings evocative of roiling oceans or atmospheric vistas, Samantha Keely Smith relies on confident, swift strokes to guide the composition. Hovering between abstraction and depictions of landscapes (previously), tonal contrasts and complementary colors emphasize dramatic movements suggestive of crashing waves or storms. “All of my work explores the idea that the line between our conscious and unconscious (experiences) is often blurry and that occasionally we are able the straddle both sides at once,” she tells Colossal.
Smith’s recent work has evolved into a looser, more freeform style that has taught her the value of experimentation or going with the flow. “Most importantly, I have given myself permission to completely fail occasionally and not feel bad about it,” she says. “I will sometimes pull a canvas off the stretcher and throw it away. In the past, I would fight to the bitter end to try to save something that just wasn’t working, which was ultimately a waste of my time and effort.”
Along with the more relaxed and confident approach, Smith now incorporates figures in her works. As an extension of her ongoing series Imagined Landscapes, she explores themes relating to presence and the subconscious in the form of bodies floating along a current that appear partially submerged. “Like a radio station coming in and out of tune, they exist as much in our reality as they do in that ‘other’ world,” she says, sharing that the addition of figures her pieces tapped into her own and loved ones’ health challenges.
Smith examines the emotional and mental toll of caring for her parents, who both suffered from prolonged illnesses. Now 54, she explores the fuzzy state between consciousness and “going under,” reflecting on being hospitalized for four months with a life-threatening illness at age 21. The painful experience instilled an appreciation for the fragility of life and the immense capacity humans have to feel hope. “The existential and the personal are intertwined in my work,” she says. “I believe that through art, we have the opportunity to accentuate our commonalities and to bring people together by sharing these personal experiences that are, at the same time, universal experiences.”
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