ROBERT B. SMITH - (BOB SMITH)
Springfield, Massachussets, 1944 - Miami, Florida, 1990
Bob Smith was born in Springfield, Mass. in 1944 and died of AIDS in Miami in 1990. A graduate in Graphics from the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, he was awarded a Charles H. Whitman traveling scholarship by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1969. He traveled to Europe, deciding to settle and work in Madrid after a one year stay in Morocco where he learned the craft of wood and silver inlay. Through his work and his very special talent to meet and engage friendships, he came in contact with many artists. In Madrid, his work was soon brought to public attention by Galeria Vandrés, the most prominent avant-garde gallery in Spain during the seventies.
Between 1971 and 1977, he exhibited regularly in Spain, France, Germany, Italy and was included in the 1973 Biennale de Paris at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. His work of that period consists mostly of drawings, prints and paintings and is largely inspired by his travels to Europe, the Middle East and Morocco, personal experiences and emotions. Nothing is excluded as means of conveying feelings, moody and dreamy, they often include leaves, grass, flower petals, feathers and others, delicately collaged onto the drawings.
In 1977, Bob Smith decided to return to the United States, and settled in New York City. Upon his arrival he took over a loft in then deserted Tribeca which he shared with Michel Auder, a video artist married to Viva, an actress of the Warhol circle. He became friends with many artists and poets such as Alice Neel, Gregory Corso, Gary Indiana, Larry Rivers, Taylor Mead, Eric Bogosian, Annie Sprinkle, Spaulding Gray, Bob Holman, Carole Bovoso, dancers and choreographers Jack Waters and Blondell Cummings, and composer Meredith Monk. He collaborated on several projects with some of them, in particular with avant-garde choreographer and dancer Blondell Cummings for whom he did the stage design and costumes of her piece "Basic Strategies No. V." at the Adams Memorial Theatre in Williamstown, Mass. Also hired as a visual artist to work for the Ceta V-Jobs Act connected with the Cultural Council Foundation, he taught art to senior citizens and mentally handicapped adults. He also made a large mural for permanent installation at the Dyckman Welfare Center.
Soon after, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted the large Tutankhamun exhibit. Having visited the museums and the sites in Egypt, Smith was totally immersed in the wave of Egyptomania that seemed to overrun the city and he produced a large body of work, drawings and paintings, in which the quietness of his images intermingled with the loudness of the media and the relentless merchandizing.
In the harsh realities of the city, his work of the early 1980's took a new turn as he started getting interested in people's fantasies and dreams that materialized in a series of paintings. Having participated in "dream workshops", he then transplanted the experience at his friend's homes, photographing them during their sleep and having them recount their dreams in the morning, giving shape to his series Sleepers and Dreamers inspired by the original Carole Bovoso (Ione) experiment.
He also started giving a new life to discarded and selected materials which he had been collecting since 1977. He comments: "At the beginning it was mainly a financial necessity for materials - then it turned out to be a very rewarding and creative approach for me. The selection of materials and collection of memories (I call the mind a filing cabinet) with a subconscious union of putting matter together - uniting form and symbols into a relationship, like a marriage in a work forever." Found drawers of all sorts housed these encounters. These "Boxed Environments" and "Wall Constructions" allowed him to combine his spatial and formal interests with his unbridled poetic vision, humor or combative spirit. They are architectures or stages for the replay of old and new stories where at times, we are both spectators and potential players as we are challenged out of inertia.
In 1982, with an Alumni Traveling Scholarship from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts he went to Denmark to work on sculpture and in 1988 with a residency at the Mac-Dowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire (USA) he conceived and started working on The Empire of a Dream, birch architectures then, which he went on to develop in France where he spent several summers in the Loire Valley visiting the castles and the Gardens at Giverny amongst others. "It is about a universal dream and necessity of all living creatures. It is about a home -a garden ... " (Bob Smith). Phantasmagorical or humorous, they sit as silent witnesses of his ingenious take on life.
Curious and avid for new adventures or revisiting "old stories", he loved going back to Morocco to work with local cedar wood which he treasured. In the late eighties, enduring the debilitating symptoms of AIDS, he moved to Miami, continued to work and became active with various groups helping through art to bring some excitement to what was then the final meanders of his and their life.
He would describe his life and work with these few lines…"My work uses the past and present, the esoteric and the commonplace, social and political messages along with religious icons and personal journeys. Travel has always been an important resource in my work – using another culture’s myths and treasures along with my personal experiences of the moment, expressing my identification with the collective, as well as my isolation, to tell a visual story of facts, dream states, old proverbs and archetypes”. (Artist Space Anniversary Show, New York, 1984)