Text for A Constellation with Works on Paper
Washburn Gallery 20 W 57 NYC, Sept. 10 – Oct. 31, 2009
Excerpt from “AN INTERVIEW WITH LEON POLK SMITH”
by Brooke Kamin Rapaport conducted by Brooke Kamin Rapaport on July 12 and 21, 1993, first published as “An Interview with Leon Polk Smith,” in Leon Polk Smith: American Painter (New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1995
BKR: Can you talk about the relationship in your work between the draw ing and painting? You don’t make drawings as sketches for paintings, but is there any interaction between them?
LPS: When I do a drawing on the canvas and then it’s to be painted, usu ally there are no changes made in the drawing. Sometimes the line might be pushed over just a tiny bit farther—the brush seems to move or the brush moves around it – but basically I don’t make changes in drawings on the canvas.
BKR: What about your works on paper versus your paintings?
LPS: I used to think that my work on paper – that is, the collages – was something completely different in space concept from my paintings. I had the feeling that I couldn’t do paintings like the collages. But in the last five years I have been doing paintings from collages made as early as the early sixties.
BKR: You’re going back to work that you did thirty years ago – do you feel that it is still fresh?
LPS: Not going back – picking up on earlier work. It’s fresher because I had to transpose it, finding a new truth in the space of other dimensions.
BKR: You had to transpose it to the canvas?
LPS: Yes. I couldn’t do it just as it was done as a collage. I had to simpli fy it. And although the collages were purely abstract, I had to do a lot of deleting in transposing them over to the canvas.
BKR: But as far as you’re concerned, there’s not a hierarchy between the works on paper and the paintings?
LPS: No, basically not, but of course, a large painting certainly has more power, in almost all instances, than a small collage on paper. So I think the only hierarchy is in the size.
BKR: I’d like to talk about the issue of overall composition in the works. In your canvases every inch is taken up with paint or with color. Do you feel that the wall becomes an extended part of the composition?
LPS: I think in those early paintings in the fifties and maybe – I would say up until 1968 – that in a sense the wall was not becoming a part of it. It was really when I got into the Constellations that I began to use the wall as a meaningful part of the painting so that the painting became a nucleus for a much larger area, because it was reaching out every direction, from some of the Constellations.