Modern poetry & art by the contemporary Cleveland artist & poet Steven B. Smith
Smith - contemporary poet

Spiritual Fulfillment
Sally Norman - Dialogue Magazine
September, 1984

Spaces launched its new season with an intriguing and well-coordinated show featuring a painter, an assemblage maker, a photographer, and a poet, all concerned with symbols, mythologies or spiritual drives.

Ron Kowalyk paints hot dogs, baseball caps, fighter planes and other twentieth-century detritus into hyperactive adventure stories starring Dr Kottel Schellen (a pseudonym for Mr. Potato Head of children's game fame). In one scene, he floats around the moon like so much rubbish ejected from a spaceship. In another, he oversees a mad scientist's test of the destructive capabilities of everything that comes to hand, including the hot dogs. Throughout it all, he maintains the bland gaze of a guru.

Kowalyk depicts snakes and crashing fighter planes in the same plain manner he paints ice cream cones, outlining them to resemble decorative stickers sold at checkout counters. Because these personal symbols have been slapped on with no expressive elaboration, no selection, they do not promote a feeling of condemnation or despair. However, because they combine indiscriminateness with explosiveness, they are shot through with amorality. Kowalyk's paintings are the product and personalized mirror of an overheated pop culture disgorging the content of its image overload. When they make a personal or cultural statement, they do so by appropriating the terms and attitude of that culture.

Steve Smith uses pop images in a more overtly corrosive and downbeat manner. Grafting the flea market funkiness of Rauschenberg onto the Cubist fracture of Schwitters, he joins toy soldiers, plastic Jesuses, and ancient newsprint in collages that explore the potency of cultural symbols.

He gives his works titles like "The Validity of Relationships" and "Exploration of Conscience," weighty subjects that he interprets by using baubles fit for the junkyard - a cheapening of central cultural themes intended as an attack. He drives the attack home with the bite of rusted wire, shattered glass and obscene imagery.

His works acquire additional sting because in using icons that either represent or can be made to represent ideas, he is, in a sense, using cultural themes as found objects. The implications of this can be disturbing.

Chas Krider takes an entirely different attitude towards myth and fetish in two series of hand-tinted photographs that document an enhanced reality touching upon a spiritual order. In "The Order of the Holy Glove," angels wearing 50s clothing, new wave hairdos and hand-painted halos pose with the self-awareness of ballet dancers choreographed into natural tableaux. The series recalls not art-photography but art-documents of performances - in this case, the staged performance of fashion rituals in which a glove becomes a fetish object.

Approaching gloves (or a shoe, or cosmetics) as if they contained a potent charm, the angels enter into the ruling myth of fashion. But in the final effect, their open fascination with their fetishes' power keeps them from falling victim to it. A sacramental attitude intends not only to recognize a power but to placate it, to use it for good, to keep it at a distance. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the series is that it equates obsession with fashion not with sophistication, corruption, or a fundamentally misdirected search for self definition, bit with innocence and freedom. In a certain sense, it equates it with aesthetic feeling. In spite of the way the angels play with fashion - or perhaps precisely because they play, with the openness to myth and magic that play entails - they remain in the pure and fertile realm where obsession, religion, and aesthetics intersect.

[missing rest of review]

Return to Reviews

· excerpts from Smith's interview with Mark Weber
·a smattering of Visitor Comments
· next Newspaper Article
·see Artcrimes #20


Comment on Smith's poetry...
e mail smith at smithcrimes @-sign yahoo dot com

Smith Home | Collage | Sculpture | Mutant Bio | Poetry | Contact & Exhibitions

Back to TOP

site map