Two Stories

Erin Koch Smith

East Gallery | April 16 – May 22, 2021

For the last few years I have worked on a group of paintings based on Philip Guston’s 1974 painting, “Lamp.” My paintings feature the imaginary heroics of a lamp stuck inside a psychological landscape built out of memories, furniture and other objects. The paintings are an attempt to create narratives using the paint as part of the storytelling process. I intentionally leave room for tangents, wanting the paintings to grow like a tomato vine or a bedtime story, and I use negation as a way to restore logic or violently disrupt it when necessary. The changes became the paintings. A chair and its table morph into a single bouncing foot; a dining room falls into a pit or grows tall like a mountain; a floor that seems safe underfoot, betrays, consuming the contents of a memory like a drunken sea. I am interested in the way words can fail, and how painting and drawing can fill the gap.

My work often starts with something abstract – like a wayward emotion, or decontextualized idea or image. Narrative is important as an impetus, but my paintings are not stories. Instead, I use stories as a raw material, like paint or clay, to build a language for experiences that cannot be expressed in a different way.

I am interested in the middles of things – real into imagination, observation into abstraction, painting into drawing, and back again. The paintings become a response to my fears about growing older, the cloudiness of middle life, and the pressure of creating a home. They are outward manifestations of private wants and desires, birthed from boredom, loneliness, and heartache. On canvas, there are no rules for gravity, and floating objects can be heavy as lead. I search for form through the materiality of the paint, playing with images of swan beds, mangled chairs, and rainbows the way I used to play with Barbie dolls as a kid, bashing their plastic parts together, trying to land on something tender.