Claude Smith — Words Fall Away

Human language and its many forms of expression, i.e. spoken, unspoken, and written, are wrought with layers of complexities. In the current exhibition at Risk Press Gallery, in Sebastopol, the work of Claude Smith poses philosophical questions about language. Called Words Fall Away, this retrospective exhibition features paintings, prints, and drawings by Smith created over the last fifteen years. Through his art Smith processes abstract concepts about verbal communication in visual mark-making terms. His style possesses a sophisticated depth that reflects his life-long involvement with art.

Smith was born in New York City, and grew up in a family of artists. His formal training began at the age of 13 when he took classes at the Art Students League in New York, as well as the School of Visual Arts, and Pratt Institute, where he earned his BFA. Smith moved to Northern California in the early 1980s where he still maintains his residence and studio. Smith has shown his work throughout the country and Europe, and has recently been an artist-in-residence at KALA Art Institute in Berkeley.

The body of work in this exhibition began in the 1990s as a result of Smith’s experimentations with the practice of silence. He spent days at a time not speaking, while carrying on with his regular daily life—to see what would happen, and how this might influence his art and perspective on life. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Claude in his Graton studio about art and life. (Click this link Claude Smith to hear the interview).

so many words . . . so little meaning

so many words . . . so little meaning

The work that followed investigated further the observations, concepts, and questions that arose during his practice of silence. What do words really mean, do they help or hinder our communication, do we listen better if we are not talking, what happens when you go beyond the word? In a piece titled so many words…so little meaning, a 40” by 60” acrylic and graphite painting, handwritten words are entangled with the layers of pink, cream, and green brushstrokes. The many words merge with the painterly abstract background, and seemingly lose their meaning while becoming curvilinear elements of composition; and are consequently repurposed.

The meaning of words through their repetition is another theme explored by Smith. When you repeat a word or a phrase over and over, what happens? A suggested “answer” appears in a painting called I Love You. On the large canvas covered with chalkboard-black paint, Smith wrote the phrase “I Love You, I Love You So Much”, with white “chalk”, repetitively until the words became a blur, flowing with a rhythm like a cascading waterfall. Do the words have more or less meaning when repeated into oblivion? Everyone has to decide for themselves.

A Thousand Cuts

A Thousand Cuts

Smith also delves into mark-making by other humans. A series called A Thousand Cuts, evolved from photographs he took of cuts made on trees in Los Angeles. Some of the markings date back to the 1950s and reflect the basic need of humans to communicate by making their mark—“Joe was here”, “Bob loves Sue”, and the like. Smith printed details from the many photographs he collected on various sizes of paper. He then arranged the images in different groupings, each telling its own implied narrative through contemporary hieroglyphics.

Other events taking place during the exhibition include an evening of music with guitarist Richard Osborn on Saturday, July 27, at 7:30 p.m. The exhibition will be on view through July 28, 2013. RiskPress Gallery is located on Healdsburg Avenue in Sebastopol. For more information check their website

Images from RiskPress website.





About Satri Pencak

Independent Curator, art writer
This entry was posted in Art Reviews, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Claude Smith — Words Fall Away

  1. Petersen, Karen says:

    Thanks Satri, I would have missed without your post. HELP! I can’t find Risk hours anywhere. Can you tell me? Thx, k

    From: Satri Pencak – Curatorial Services <> Reply-To: Satri Pencak – Curatorial Services <> Date: Monday, July 22, 2013 5:50 PM To: Karen Petersen <> Subject: [New post] Claude Smith Words Fall Away

    Satri Pencak posted: “Human language and its many forms of expression, i.e. spoken, unspoken, and written, are wrought with layers of complexities. In the current exhibition at Risk Press Gallery, in Sebastopol, the work of Claude Smith poses philosophical questions about lang”


  2. Deborah Robbins says:

    Boy , this sounds interesting! I liked your interview, too. Is Claude partnered? I wondered how a period of silence would work around the house. I like the phrase “the brain disconnected from the tongue.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s