David Smith: Works from the Estate of Edward Fry
Edward Fry was a renowned curator tenured with the Guggenheim Museum in New York and an early supporter of David Smith's work. As curator and researcher he helped to assembled the 1969 Guggenheim retrospective of Smith's works and again in 1982 he assisted with another Smith exhibition titled "David Smith: Painter, Sculptor, Draftsman" and included a scholarly essay within the exhibition catalogue titled "David Smith: An Appreciation". This essay helped to round out this wonderful catalogue and elaborated on Fry's previously published analysis of Smith's complex visual language; a language developed through an internalization of European Modernism and Surrealism by way of his major influences: Jan Matulka, Julio Gonzalez, Pablo Picasso, and John Graham. A talented writer and brilliant curator, Edward Fry contributed greatly to the scholarship of Modern Art through the authorship of many texts regarding the works of a variety of Modern Masters.
For David Smith, America's greatest sculptor of the twentieth century, there is little difference between drawing, painting and sculpture. He easily moved from one medium to the next and indeed one subject to the next, such that a drawing could be a unique object in its own right or a sculpture could in turn be inspiration for a drawing. A factory worker during World War II, Smith found his muse in materials and heavy equipment. These years were lean for a sculptor due to a shortage of available industrial scrap metal and Smith found himself working most feverishly with brushes and ink on paper. Smith's works from the 1930s are harsh and recall the horrors of war. His Medals for Dishonor, created as prints, drawings and small bronze medallions commemorate the disasters of war and reveal a heartfelt anxiety and a pervasive liberal social concern. An etching from the series titled Women in War (lot 303) does not simply depict the violence of war but stands as an iconic protest against it.
Smith's preoccupation with iconography and symbolism would remain throughout his career; the vicious psychological effects of the war also remain present in works like False Peace Spectre and Jurassic Bird from the mid 1940s. Through the example of Surrealism, Smith found that he could externalize his inner conflicts and concerns and express the essence of experience through a less literal and more abstracted vocabulary. One can easily see the influence of Picasso's popular masterpiece The Studio, 1932 in Smith's Untitled, 1950 (lot 298). The main composition within this drawing is raised modestly above its implied base on a thin column of ink. This exceptional work anticipates Smith's leap in the following year from being a master student of European Modernism to an artist in the truly American tradition as his work begins to take into consideration the American landscape, man's relationship to the ground, the sky and the heavens above.
Smith was an artist of the outdoors; his work bears the mark of his surroundings. Black lines on white paper can suggest natural elements like sticks in a snow covered field, or even less empirical and rather conceptual renderings of his sculpture imagined within the same snow covered field. In the later Cubi sculptures rising high above the landscape, the sanded steel surfaces reflect the light and dematerialize the edges of each form creating a phenomenon recalling Giacommetti's cast bronze figures made to appear as if dissolving within a strong existential cloud of light.
The limits of drawing on a two dimensional surface can for many sculptors seem very limiting, the distance between the pictorial markings on a surface and the rendered form in three dimensions being insurmountable. For Smith, line is language whether in two or three dimensions. Both Untitled drawings from 1951 (lot 297 and lot 299) find secure placement within Smith's strongest graphic works of the early 1950's. They anticipate Smith's later detachment from specific iconographic reference and begin to exhibit his final sculptural destination resulting in a formal reduction of form and existential dematerialization.
Smith worked with a puritanical approach to art making, believing that through consistent effort and dedication to process, truth would become form. Smith's idealism is apparent through the words spoken during a drawing lesson as recalled by his daughter Candida.
"Feel your body and its natural movement. Draw from deep inside, feeling the brush move the paint across the surface of the paper. Do not censure or force forms to come forth. Wait for the disciplined reception of the inner impulse. After that is resolved into form, you may feel free to build upon it. Each gesture comes out of the one before. Be Bold." (C. Smith, "The Voice of the Artist", David Smith: Draughtsman. Between Eros and Thanatos, Valencia, 2004, p. 13).