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David Smith


David Smith in his studio, Bolton Landing, New York, c./environ 1956-57 © 2015 Estate of David Smith, licensed by VAGA, New York

"Art is the raw stuff which comes from aggressiveness by men who got that way fighting for survival."

Among the greatest American sculptors of the twentieth century, David Smith was the first to work with welded metal. His work is characterized by a ruggedness and lack of polish, combining fragments of metal, referring to the formative experiences he had in his youth while working in a car body workshop and a welder for the American Locomotive Company during World War II. Smith studied painting and always claimed: "I belong with the painters," yet turned to three-dimensional space, making  sculptures with means of industrial manufacturing and therefore proving to be an important influence on later Minimalism. Smith fruitfully combined a range of influences from European modernism including Cubism, Surrealism, and Constructivism. Collage was an important technique, which determined his compositional strategy. Smith created sculptures through an assemblage of elements, often combining found objects like tools. The resulting heterogeneous forms are difficult to perceive in their entirety, forcing to be considered part by part. Smith also dispersed pictorial motifs around the edge of the sculpture, compelling the viewer to change positions.

One of Smith's most important formal innovations was to abandon the idea of a centralized sculpture, originating around a "core", which was pervasive in modern sculpture. Smith replaced this notion with the idea of "drawing in space." He would use thin wire to produce linear, transparent sculptures with figurative motifs at their edges. Smith´s subjects encompassed the figure and landscape, often revolving around symbols of violence, the most prominent of which bearing the form of a totem and being based on Freud´s ideas on totems. Smith also produced gestural, almost calligraphic marks made with egg yolk, Chinese ink and brushes and, in the late 1950s, the ‘sprays’. He usually signed his drawings with the ancient Greek letters delta and sigma, meant to stand for his initials.

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