January 4, 2022

Michael Smith: Urban Wild – On View January 15, 2022

Michael Smith: Urban Wild
On View Saturday, January 15, 2022

“ . . . to understand light you need first to have been
buried in the deep-down dark.”

Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey2020


TrépanierBaer is pleased to open the New Year with Michael Smith: Urban Wild, a new suite of bold, lush landscape paintings. The direct result of the artist’s resurfacing from a long COVID lockdown in 2021, the paintings presented in Urban Wild  derive from drawings  executed en plein air  in various locations  in and around Montréal.

These direct works express a sense, as Henry David Thoreau once wrote that  “..wildness is the preservation of the world”. Through these extraordinary and visceral paintings, the viewer senses the artist’s need, after months of  isolation and insulation, to reconnect with the primal energy and “primitive vigor of Nature, ”  as so aptly noted by Thoreau. A sentiment that many of us felt and continue to feel as the reality of COVID continues to linger, and we are more and more isolated.

Smith’s visits to the wooded environs outside his home and drawing – in situ –  places him in the long line of artists who acknowledged the importance creating en plein air and making portraits of the natural environs that surrounded them:  from Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes at the beginning of the 19th century; to the Macchioli painters outside Florence in the late 1850s; and notable French painters such as Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Bezille from the 1860s onward; to Tom Thomson and Group of Seven painters in Canada during the 1920s and early 30s.

We hope that you will be able to join us over the next several weeks to view Michael Smith’s latest work.

As Michael Smith has noted:

After a long lockdown, spring 2021 invited me outside, exploring woodlands in and around Montreal and consequently to make many drawings plein air. In the drawings every mark became a direct process of physical transference – a kind of somatic rapture for the everyday, the commonplace.

I would position myself in the woodlands surrounded, and in direct physical contact with, the terrain I was drawing – shoots, twigs, mud often became inadvertent graphic mediums. The requirement was to immerse myself as much in the material moment as possible.

It is this fresh and uncluttered approach that re-presents materiality through observation and sensation. I wanted to eliminate as many determinants as possible that might obstruct or distance me from seeing. With the larger paintings I would surround myself in the studio with these drawings, rekindling an active memory-bank of sites and sensations of this Urban Wild.

These works also begin to address what I consider to be ‘a coming up for air’ or ‘surfacing’ after the literal immersion that took place in preparation for my previous body of work, Underland, inspired by the caves of S W France.  Being inside the caves is like dipping into a kind of dank and cold eternity where the constant dripping of water – a metronome of infinite time continues un-interrupted for millennia. You feel this sense of the earth as a grave, and everything held in abeyance even for the hour or two of visiting. So, exiting the cave, coming up for air, is exhilarating. The recent works in this exhibition, Urban Wild, represent my emergence from a time of ‘lockdown’ and a return to the world outside.

Image Credit: 
Overrun, 2021
Acrylic on canvas
61.75″ x 52.5″