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Colin Smith

from 'The Arrested Image'

Colin Smith is a painter of private moments in public places, and of private places exposed to public view. He is a painter of modern moments, depicting a life both lived and filtered through the thousands of hours spent watching movies and TV, of long waits in the no-zones of airport lounges and hotel lobbies...

Mostly, Smith's characters are in transit, on the way from one place to another, trying to make connections. Often, they are waiting, doing nothing, waiting for nothing, going nowhere, stalled. Their lives, as much as we can tell of them - which isn't much - are both purposeful and empty. Smith paints, I believe, a kind of poignant futility. But it is worth keeping in mind that rather than real people, or characters in a movie, these figures, and the situations and objects Smith records, are painted, fictions in paint. They are cast in painted light, invented out of the painter's materials. These are things made and unmade by the painter's brush; they have no inner lives.

Although Smith paints in series, returning to the same subjects and the same motifs again and again (even repainting the same painting over itself, again and again, sometimes even after a gap of years, on a canvas he has already apparently finished) we should not look for a narrative in his work. His paintings are both unfinished stories and stories barely begun. Smith tries to achieve, I think, a kind of impenetrable presence...

Modern life is a long wait, in which we view one another from a distance, imagining the lives other people lead, picking up clues from their gestures, the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, their public posture. And we none of us know any more exactly where the line is drawn between what we have seen and heard for ourselves, what we ourselves have experienced, and what we have been told, or seen in films, read in a book somewhere...

© Adrian Searle, London, September1996

Adrian Searle is an artist, art critic and curator. He currently works as the art critic of "The Guardian" national newspaper. These extracts appear by kind permission of the author.



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