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Working on a new series Love Songs For The Tone Deaf;

I’ve been shifting in to realism for a couple of reasons, and while there’s plenty of personal reasons as to why, creatively speaking, another is more broadly political.

My initial draw to art was via abstraction, which obviously made the most sense to a teenager in the late 90s / early aughts. Even though I could draw from life with ease, I never really wanted to. Art was an idea.

While I still fully support the notion that art is an idea that is defined by an outcome, the way I see art as it relates to the rest of the world has drastically shifted with age. As much as I love abstraction, its utility in post-Warhol America has largely been about marketing. Abstract art can be used easily as decoration since it no longer challenges the idea of what art is; it can be adopted as another historical idea that can now be capitalized upon.

I was talking with a gallery manager of a prominent contemporary gallery in Portland and they were telling me about how the new movements are about artistic intent; after all, Ai Weiwei isn’t assembling giant facades of buildings with his own two hands: he’s a director, a producer.

There’s an incredibly disturbing parallel here to how neoliberal and globalist ideas of business are practiced by management over automation, with executives and brands getting singular credit for the work of many laborers who often see only unfulfilled promises that have swelled into the perception of a lie instead. I don’t think artists should be endorsing this model of social progress, and while abstraction didn’t lend its hand to mass-production per se (that would have been Warhol), the modern art world’s rejection of realism to me indicates that the people who collect art don’t want to see reality, because the world for most is absolute hell.

Of course, with art—and especially abstraction—subjectivity is prominent and so the entire idea becomes about how it can help the class of people supporting it. Abstract art can be valued, stored away as an asset and really it’s as good as any other form of currency, just a random fucking collection of colors on a canvas and it’s ‘worth’ millions.

This has always been bothersome, but at this point I feel art might be the last vestige of a place for honesty in this world. Though our creativity as a species rests in the abstract and unknown, and we desperately need that inspiration from something beyond ourselves right now, the truth is commerce has consumed art in the United States and redistributed it through media by way of advertisements, so much so that people are wrapped up in levels of irony and meta-representationalism that it feels an entire generation has no clue of who or what they are since nothing holds any actual definition anymore. Combine this with the fact the ‘Art World’ is full of people endorsing horrific institutions of empire (since that’s where the money is), and I feel a lot of this has some roots with abstract representative thought and how it turned into a market instead of a social push toward a new, post-structural future.

So now I’m getting back into realism, because at the end of the day the things in front of us will be all that’s left in a world where the malevolent will so eagerly leave humans to rot in despair if it means just one more penny for their trust.


Colin Smith is an interdisciplinary artist & art director living & working in Los Angeles. His assembly-based work focuses on human nature and its relationship to media, language, time, and systems of control.

For more information, social links, as well as various writings on practice & theory, visit the about page.

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