He makes colorful prints that loosely employ new media processes. He has rendered traditional three-dimensional materials like clay into print; he’s transferred computer graphics onto velvet or silk. The results are sexy and complex works that you can still understand without having a vast knowledge of online culture.
Accomplished accessibility serves Smalley well. In addition to a bevy of shows he’ll participate in this year, he’ll present his work at The Abrons Art Center, among such talent as Cory Arcangel, Andrew Kuo and Liz Magic Laser. The show, Decenter, surveys the work of a handful of artists exploring the changes brought on by digital culture.
What neighborhood do you live in?
I’ve lived and worked in East Williamsburg for years, but in the past year I’ve spent more and more time in Jersey City with my partner Kaela and her mom Leila. Over the years I’ve had art studios all around Bushwick, including in an ex-textile mill on Thames Street and a former orphanage on Montrose Avenue. At first I was really excited about the cheap rent and how close I was to so many of my friends and fellow artists, but the rent hikes get annoying. I’m currently looking for a new studio in Brooklyn or Manhattan.
How do you start a new project?
My art practice is a process of continual experimentation where one project leads into the next. For example, in the summer of 2011 I began working in my studio on a series of hybrid digital/physical collages that I later made into a book, Capture Physical Presence. These collages were made out of cut-up computer graphic prints that I composed on the scanner bed, scanned, and began to digitally manipulate. I was interested in blurring the line between digital manipulation of an image and physical manipulation of an image. The techniques of Photoshop produce a whole other form of art-making, art education, and technical abilities. In my practice I’m always interested in these ways that the digital and physical intermingle, like how the pen tool in Photoshop mimics an X-acto, and vice versa. While I was working with paper, I began considering what other physical materials are used in the language of Photoshop. My mind jumped to clay, a medium that can be smudged, stretched, and liquified. A few months after finishing my book, I began work on my current project, Compositions in Clay: a series of images made by tightly packing colorful clay on the scanner bed and scanning them at the highest possible resolution.
You went to VCU for printmaking and now make a lot of digital prints. Many of them, at least in reproduction, look like painting. What is the allure of printing?
Yeah! I studied for two years in VCU’s Painting and Digital Printmaking Department. I went on to study sculpture and drawing at Cooper Union, but in many ways I don’t think my mindset ever left the conversation of printing. I’ve been drawn to print because I want to take the computer graphic and digital photograph off of the computer and make them experiential as physical tangible objects that aren’t backlit and can exist without a power outlet. Once digital images and digital creations leave the screen they more easily slip into a larger conversation about the history of the art object.
Is a stretched velvet print actually printed on velvet?
Yes! This past fall I did a project in Glasgow where I worked with a textile printing studio to print some of my newest computer graphic paintings on a tight woven velvet. The velvet soaks up so much ink that they have to be printed on multiple times. The final print is something that is incredibly vibrant and matte. I love how these prints turned out. I’ve also been experimenting with silk and commercial vinyls.
Do you ever miss looking at work on a computer screen once it’s been printed?
After I have the physical object, honestly the digital files are just a letdown. They seem so flat and they don’t carry the perceptual depth that a physical medium provides. Most of the works I make, with the exception of my videos and websites, are made with the thought in mind that these will be actual objects separate from their digital interface. Looking at their files on the computer is a little like watching a film in Final Cut with all of the clips and audio tracks strung together for me to see. It’s too apparent. The computer screen’s light is so static and unchanging.
Is there an artist or exhibition that’s had an especially significant impact recently on your development?
I was really excited that the early digital video artist Lillian Schwartz put her whole videography up on YouTube, but I think she since took it down. I remember finding her YouTube channel and getting so excited that she was doing these abstract visualizers so early in the history of computer graphics and video art. Her short videos/animations created a whole new vocabulary for digital abstraction. I would love to see someone present her work soon in a more formal setting where she could get greater recognition for all she did and the influence she still has.
Also, Matisse: In Search of True Painting. I went with my friend Christopher Schreck and every room was a revelation in process and image making. I loved seeing how Matisse worked through versions of an image, how he documented his process, how his confidence in his personal perception and painting grew. I’ve seen the exhibition twice already and I can think of a handful of artists I would like to go and see it with again just to see how they respond to it.
How do you describe your work to your parents?
My parents have always admired creativity and supported me in what I’m doing, even though they don’t have art backgrounds or care at all about the art world. My mom always says she spelled my name the way it is because she wanted it, and me, to be creative. I don’t need to describe my work to them because they accept it as it is, because it’s from me and they know it makes me happy. I’m very lucky.
Opal Weave computer graphic on streched velvet 2012 75cm x 100cm