It's no mistake! Local artist George Smith finds himself at the Craig Gallery.
Show of local artist's recent paintings runs through Nov. 26
If there’s one thing George Smith is not short on, it’s stories. Spend any amount of time with him and you’re bound to hear ‘about the time that…’. Attend a weekend feast prepared by him and hosted by his partner Cora-lee Eisses, and you will quickly learn that each course is inspired by great literature. Even his column in this newspaper, which started out as a means to a regular recipe for readers, now serves nostalgia, romance and irony as a bittersweet entrée. Switch art forms and the need for narrative remains.
“Each painting is a story. Even if that story is not obvious to the person who is looking at the finished piece, to me, there is a story.”
Smith recently opened a new show entitled ‘Focus’ at the Craig Gallery in Dartmouth that runs until Nov. 26. It is a collection of his work over the last three years that examines “the language of light and dark and its ability to draw the mind’s focus.” It is also perhaps the most significant show for the UK native since crossing the pond at the turn of the millennium.
“Doing the whole show has been quite overwhelming. When I got the exhibition in June, I actually thought it was a mistake. When I ringed the gallery director, I was sure she was going to say, ‘Oh no, it’s not you, it’s another George.’”
To Smith, some paintings have an obvious story like the one of his father in 1954 during the Suez crisis that is currently hanging in Dartmouth.
“There's a whole story surrounding him about how he got shot, killed an Arab guy, and ended up in jail for murder. How the British government got him out of Saudi Arabia and got him back to England, where in his joyous, celebratory mood - probably drank too much - crashed a motor bike, broke his leg and ends up in hospital. He ends up in hospital with nuns as nurses and falls in love with one of the nuns. They have sex, a few months later she's left the convent and married him. And I'm the product. But nobody else knows that story who looks at the painting.”
With other paintings, the story is completely manufactured in Smith’s mind. But it becomes no less real nor any less important.
“If I do not know the person, a whole story is invented in my head while I paint it. If I'm painting a picture which takes weeks or months, I've invented a whole relationship with that person.”
Earlier this fall, Smith sold a painting of a man and woman he entitled ‘The Butcher’s Daughter’. Though he knew nothing of the real-life figures it was based on, Smith says he wept in front of the piece as it hung in the Victoria County Creates gallery.
“I had such a strong relationship with those two people who I'd never met.”
Smith says he witnessed a woman reacting in a similar way to a different painting of his at the Craig Gallery.
“There's a story that she’s told herself about the painting. You don't just cry because you're looking at a painting. You're looking at it and you have that connection - because there's a connection, maybe with a story that’s already in your head - a true story. It resonates in that way. And I think all art does that, not just mine.”
Despite the significance of story, Smith still honours the technical needs of the art form.
“My technical side is separate from the story. The story is prolonged because of the technical side - because I'm trying to convey the image by using the materials in a particular way. So, I paint you and use graphite. I use wire wall or a sanding disc or something like that. In the same way, I use brushes and my hands and fingers to manipulate the paint. So, I'm continuously changing it and then I might scrape it all off. And then I might pour water all over it and wash it off. Or just let the paint run and then let it dry.”
In addition to his many artistic endeavours, in the kitchen and the studio, Smith occasionally swings a hammer as a seasoned carpenter. What stories form in the framing of studs and the fastening of sheet rock? If only those walls could talk.
For information on gallery hours and directions, visit www.alderneylanding.com/gallery.
A painting of George Smith's father, entitled "Suez '54", currently hangs at the Craig Gallery until Nov. 26 in the artist's show 'Focus'.