Harper’s is pleased to announce Seasonal Dancing Dolls, a solo exhibition of recent paintings by Willie Wayne Smith at the gallery’s East Hampton location. Composed of 17 delirious scenes rendered in pastiche art forms, Seasonal Dancing Dolls highlights the artist’s dexterity in unifying disparate genres into a holistic practice. The exhibition opens on Saturday, November 20, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist.
Amusingly calling his technique “state fair sfumato,” Willie Wayne Smith embraces the intersection of high and low culture. His acrylic and airbrush compositions feature overlapping pictures and text from a variety of sources, portraying allegorical situations through an ensemble of art historical styles. Random graffiti scribbles, expressionistic splatters, and imaginary cartoon characters encircle dramatic tableaux of everyday people candidly posing in fantastical settings. Crafted with acute attention to detail, Smith’s trompe l’oeil arrangements recall Renaissance paintings that represent divine interventions from Biblical narratives. In Transfiguration, a corpse levitates out of a makeshift casket, while angelic characters whimsically float across the surfaces in Mona and Lisa Wait for Reality to Set In and Seasonal Dancing Dolls. With paintings such as Holding In Expanded and Boomerang, empty bodies are illustrated in simple black outlines like coloring books, revealing the sublimity of his expansive mountain and seascape backgrounds. While these diverse elements within Smith’s compositions are often presented in a fragmentary and chaotic manner, an underlying numinous theme pervades the works on view.
Humor is an essential aspect of Smith’s practice, grounding his transcendental subject matter in the quotidian. Beyond the comedy of vulnerable facial expressions and body postures, the artist’s chosen media accentuates his commitment to making work that resonates with the popular imagination. By mastering the airbrushed style he frequently encountered during his childhood in Central Florida—on custom cars, carnival signs, and personalized t-shirts—Smith explores how vernacular art forms have the capacity to deepen experience as much as more high-minded fine art. The hazy, soft-focus nature of the sprayed pigment allows his scenes to feel approachable, casting his working-class figures in an empathetic light. For Smith, the “state fair” aesthetic contains just as many opportunities for cultivation as a world-class museum.
Willie Wayne Smith (b.1984 Limbé, Haiti) received a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006, and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2010. Most recently, Smith’s work has been presented at Harper’s, East Hampton, NY (2021); Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI (2021); Library Street Collective, Detroit, MI (2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017); Ruttkoski; 68, Paris, FR (2020); Essex Flowers, New York, NY (2020 and 2018); FJORD Gallery, Philadelphia, PA (2019); Sadie Halie Projects, Brooklyn, NY, and Minneapolis, MN (2018, 2015, 2017, and 2012); Good Weather Gallery, North Little Rock, AR (2017, 2016, and 2015); Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, Atlanta, GA (2017); and Central Park Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2017). His work has appeared in Artnet, Artspace, and Vice, among other publications. Smith is currently an artist-in-residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI.