What is it like to be “of one’s time” and not? Leon Polk Smith was a prime progenitor of American hard-edged abstraction whose non-objective pedigree as a protégé of the painter and philanthropist Hilla Rebay, and subsequent track record of showing in the Betty Parsons and Egan Gallery early on, puts him squarely in the pocket of post-war American art ascendancy yet his legacy has subsequently remained a relatively independent part of that particular epic.
This unique position was undoubtedly the result of Smith overcoming his disadvantaged social circumstance with an indomitable will to shape an independent destiny in art. Born in 1906 into a hardscrabble farm family of nine siblings, in what was then called the Oklahoma Territory, Smith knew the realities of carving a living out of one’s bodily capacities. He grew up amongst remnants of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes that had been dislocated to the territory a century before by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Smith’s parents were of Cherokee heritage, and he identified with his neighbors closely, in experiences that would later resurface, in related formal permutations, in his mature artworks……
Read full review at The Brooklyn Rail
Visit the exhibition at the Lisson Gallery: Leon Polk Smith: 1940 – 1961. New York, 11 January – 17 February 2024