Sei Smith (b. 1990, New York City) lives and works in New York City. Smith fixates on reflection, light, and the interaction between object, viewer, and context. Through the intense layering of fluorescent paint, iridescent film, and the incorporation of a variety of found or "farmed" objects, Smith’s work is designed to expand the definition of painting. He creates minimal and dynamic compositions that playfully challenge one’s perception of the phenomenal world.
After studying painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Smith had his first solo exhibition in 2011 and has since shown work at galleries, museums, and art fairs in Miami, Chicago, New York. As the co-founder of Apostrophe NYC’s Base 12 Project, Smith orchestrated exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMa PS1, Coney Island’s Luna Park, Mana Contemporary, and even the MTA’s Kosciuszko Street J train Station. These guerrilla style pop-up exhibitions were lauded by Antwuan Sargent as “merging the aesthetics of a gallery space with the spontaneous nature of street art... [rethinking] the politics of art accessibility,” (Vice, 2016). He has been featured in numerous publications, including Artnet, Barron’s, Dazed, Hypebeast, and Time Out, which listed Smith as one of the top 10 artists in NYC under the age of 35. Smith has works in several prominent private and public collections; notably, Smith’s work was chosen as the first acquisition for Artsy’s corporate collection. Along with his own art practice, he continues to curate exhibitions and happenings in New York City.
I Want My Art To...
As years wash over the vision of the past, like the iridescent film that covers my paint, my perspective shifts. The same works of art, once grounded firmly in the mud of some ideology, begin moving and relocating. No art is free from the ideological bias of the present. I don’t fear ideological displacement; I love it. I love the cries of tradition dying as it’s dragged behind a younger vision. I find no safety or comfort in tradition, in maxims like “if it ain't broke don't fix it,” in reverence for the past. Still, I don’t want an existence of chaos or constant upheaval. I do value stillness in the present. Stillness, not as a stasis but as an experience. This kind of stillness is what I want from/for my art.
I want a fluidity of ideological entry points. I want my art to pull tradition into the future, grinding that tradition into dust as it tries to hang on and pull us back. I want a still moment of peace as the painting begins to draw you into a dance. The reflective surface changes with the movement of your body, reacting to your inquisition. I want my art to flirt with you, daring you to forget the systems you trust and languish in. I want my art to embrace imperfection, flawed but aspirational.
I want my art to be beautiful but not as a distraction. Not objectified beauty. Beauty, not to behold but to be grown and to be learned. Beauty that’s makes Romanticism’s idea of the sublime look like an incel meme. I want beauty built of the friction between contradiction in the viewer's beliefs and their experience with my art. I want beauty that you can fall into, losing yourself in the discovery of something new. I want my art to be something new. Not fundamentally new, but new in its relationship to you the viewer.
Nothing exists without a direct connection to political and societal structures. My art will inherently and implicitly relate to these ideas and structures, but it is not a response to politics or contemporary culture. It is a refusal to speak in its language. My art will not address political issues with opposing or supportive ideologies because to do so is to accept their dichotomous value proposition. In rejecting support or opposition to contemporary ideologies and politics in art, I am not advocating for compromise. I want my art to exist as what Deleuze calls ‘minor literature.’
I want my art to change like a tree with the seasons, present through the rise and fall of empires, always in conversation, speaking a language for which deciphering is irrelevant. I want my art to…well, just go see for yourself. As the viewer, you will know more about my art than I could ever conceptualize or articulate.
Other Art Statements
-I believe art should make you feel unconformable and safe. It must make the viewer question and give them the space to explore those questions.
-Art must not objectify itself or the viewer. Mutual respect is needed for any true experiential exchange.
-Every piece of art is site-specific and becomes part of an uncontrived installation.
-All statements should be made strongly but held loosely.
-Art must be simple in its complexity not complex to mask its simplicity.
-All objects must be vehicles for experience...to make up for their inanimate lifestyle.
My work exists in the canon of western contemporary art, constantly trying to build new ideas into the conservative structures I’ve chosen to dwell in. My work often varies, series to series in look and concept but always underneath there is a drive to expand the viewing experience and expose new ways of seeing and understanding the art experience. Every piece is the focal point or map of a larger installation, just as every moment exists in time.