Mitchel Smith : Press

"Retro-Active: Review Essay by Peter Hide"
Source: Harcourt House
Published: 04/24/2010
Author: Peter Hide

This show has been titled Retro-Active to underline the dual nature of the show, in that it’s the work of two fine artists, Mitchel Smith and Sheila Luck - husband and wife as it happens; but, and much more specifically, the nature of the show.

Retro is of course a fashionable word for art that looks back to a previous time, but I hasten to add that the art they have in the show is not made out of a desire to cling to the past; that would be merely reactionary. To my mind Mitchel and Sheila’s art looks back to the painting of the 50’s and 60’s in order to build their paintings on a solid foundation.

The idea of looking back to go forward is not new in art; the achievements of the Renaissance are based on the rediscovery of classical art after 2000 years of neglect.  Closer to our time is the rebirth of painting in the hands of the Impressionists who looked back to Goya and Velazquez to escape from the prevailing pall of academic salon painting in 19th century France.  In both cases the products of this revisiting produced art that was genuinely new and of its time, but without self consciously trying to be so.  (The looking back of Post Modernism by contrast seems to be a self conscious process with its claims to irony which only go to reinforce a sense of weakness and insecurity in the work.)

Sheila Luck’s “Alpha” for instance has echoes of Motherwell and Still in its drawing and layout but the colour feeling is entirely different. The painting offers a set of new relationships; an intelligent misunderstanding of what Motherwell and Still were about to which Harold Bloom applied the word “misprision”. In this context the word retroactive becomes meaningful in the sense that what comes after Motherwell and Still affects how we see this work with hindsight as it were through the eyes of Sheila.

The same argument can be applied to Mitchel Smith’s very fine “Scroll”, but in his case it’s harder to pin down a specific artist as a forebear; there is a more general feel of the brief high modernist phase of painting as instanced by Barnett Newman, Ken Noland, Morris Louis and early Jules Olitski, but somehow subtly changed. To draw from this period represents a special challenge in that its severe and hieratic reductionism leaves little room for manoeuvre; most serious painters chose to a draw back from the brink as it were into a re-complication of painting.

Mitchel and Sheila have worked together sharing the same studio for many years and because of this I feel they have evolved together to their mutual benefit.

Peter Hide, March 2010