Fine Art Connoisseur, May/June 2008

Artists Making Their Mark: Three to Watch

There is a lot of superb art being made these days; this column shines light on a trio of talents.
ANDREA J. SMITH (b.1965) is a veritable citizen of the world who landed happily in New York City in 2001. Originally from the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia, she earned her undergraduate degree in ceramics and photography at Melbourne University, but eight years passed before she began studying with Daniel Graves at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy.

As described in the March/April 2007 issue of Fine Art Connoisseur, the Florence Academy offers a traditional curriculum, progressing from cast drawings, the sight-size method, and monochromes through drawing from the model, and only lastly to painting or sculpture. Smith spent three years studying and five years teaching at Florence, and came to New York thanks to a major Australian prize that enables the recipient to visit museums worldwide.

Once in Manhattan, she studied with Michael Aviano, Michael Grimaldi, and Nelson Shanks, and in 2002 co-founded, with the artist Judy Kudlow, the Harlem Studio of Art, which occupies a large loft on the top floor of a century-old cabinetmaker’s building. Here Smith administers a course adapted from Florence’s that rigorously trains the eye, with particular emphasis on the drawing curriculum developed by Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme (and used by van Gogh and Picasso in their youth).

Smith’s own work in oils has evolved since she arrived in New York: Her still lifes, portraits, and figure paintings feature the expert draftsmanship, tonal palette, and high finish we expect from Florence alumni. Smith’s familiarity with classical myth and Renaissance culture has informed her choice of themes, which are pervaded by a sense of calm and grace. More recently, Smith has pursued a promising avenue that entails a distinctive blend of highly naturalistic flesh painting set against more abstracted blocks of color. As before, her sitters are confident women with ambiguous intentions, yet they are neither named individuals nor personifications. With its contemporary clothing and block-lettered background, a work such as Stonesis very clearly of our time, yet also puts us in mind of 19th-century figure painters such as Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), who successfully bridged the “gap”between ideal and real.

Smith and Kudlow have recently expanded the scope of their educational mission by creating a forum where kindred spirits (including artists, critics, and dealers) are invited to hear lectures and discuss issues in realist painting today. In June, Smith will burnish her “citizen of the world” status by moving to Rome to open a sister school of the Harlem Studio there.
Smith is represented by Forum Gallery (New York City).