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Portraits of You at Ki Smith Gallery (2021)

Booklet Text for Portraits of You (9/10/21 - 10/17/21):

Portraits of You is a series of multi-media paintings that reimagines the viewer’s role in the process of making art. Each work is the product of a single conversation, in which Smith asks, “If I were to paint a portrait of you, what would the background look like?”


Smith takes notes as his subject describes their ideal portrait background, gathering details and references as the image begins to take shape in his mind. With subjects including Smith’s brother, his girlfriend, a favorite musician, an old classmate and her five-year-old son, the resulting compositions are as varied in form and content as the individuals themselves. Smith then obscures each painting with thin layers of tonal acrylic paint, leaving behind only faint outlines and abstracted forms. Finally, Smith encases the works with his signature iridescent film creating a dreamy, reflective effect, like a faded memory of the subject’s imagined setting.


When viewing these works in person, one begins to question their senses: what at first glance appears decidedly pink quickly fades to a fluorescent blue with only a single side-step. Light bounces off the rippled dichroic film and textured brush strokes of the underlying painting, casting glowing reflections onto the gallery walls. In approaching one of these figureless portraits, the viewer’s own shadow appears within the frame, their reflection coming further into focus with each step forward. Portraits of You allows the viewer to literally see themselves in the portraits of eight different people. 

Says the artist, “Just as two people can look at the same painting and see different colors depending on where they’re standing, our individual backgrounds (social, geographical, economic, etc.) cause us to be aware of, or blind to, aspects of our reality.” In installing each portrait at the eye-level of the subject rather than standard gallery height, Smith intentionally rejects the assumed perspective of Art World hegemony. In his search for an egalitarian art experience, Portraits of You presents a playful celebration of subjectivity. Further underscoring the multitudinous ways in which art––and the world––can be experienced, Smith’s accompanying viewing instructions prompt visitors to engage in alternative forms of interaction inspired by his conversation with each subject.

-C. Foussard

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