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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Artist profile: Stacie Smith

A mixed media artist filters through the world's ephemera, combining tickets stubs, pressed flowers, and photographs to create art that resonates through the combinations of the mundane. Like the optometrist who clicks the lens into place, asking, “Better?” until the blurred lines go away, the artist focuses their selected parts into a single viewable parcel. Local artist Stacie Smith’s work shows both generosity and sparseness in its palimpsests of gathered objects.

“Mixed media feels soulful to me,” Smith says, sitting in her concise studio, sorting through receipts from a recent trip to Minneapolis. The receipts will lend their texture and inked numbers to a new collage. “There’s more of a dialogue with this art form.”

In the last couple of years she’s stretched into mixed media collage. Incorporating things she finds—bits of papers she’s accumulated, trash, paint, and photographs—Smith works with an openness that allows the free flow of emotions and messages. Smith is more than her family name; she is a metalsmith who teaches the craft at Bozeman High School.

“My process is how I process life,” she says. “I think a lot about sense of place. So I started picking up pieces from the ground, a leaf, a postcard, papers. They feel like treasures and that validates things for me.”

Unscrewing the lid on a jar of matte medium—an upscale artists' version of Mod Podge—Smith picks up a brush and runs her fingers across the bristles, while she eyes the pile of papers she’s just emptied from her wallet. Choosing a restaurant receipt she applies a generous coat to the wood panel and to the flimsy paper as well.

“I don’t want to get too attached to things, I want to stay open to the process,” she says, wiping off the excess glue. She chooses a movie receipt next, creating an underlayer that may or may not be visible in the final piece. “My work is becoming a visual diary for me," Smith says while using scissors to cut out a silhouette of a dancer, adhering it to the work in progress.

The tradition of collage as art is ancient, going back to the Byzantine Empire with their use of gold leaf. 20th-Century Dada artists like Picasso, Georges Braque and Hannah Hoch expanded the medium, bringing a sense of exposure and social commentary along with the use of everyday objects set against text and paint.

“When I work with metals there’s a pressure of doing things the right way, because that’s what I teach,” she says, picking up a graphite pencil and scoring a line down one side of the piece. “But when I’m working with mixed media I’m more open to the innocence of the work and maybe that’s where the surprise comes in.”

Her latest work can be seen at Oh Susannah’s Jewelry in the Emerson until July 10th.

“Being a teacher, I wanted to practice what I preach,” she says. “How do I keep my hand in my art? I decided to do one painting a month for year.”

The result is the stunning show called, “Play Along,” in which the piece “LOCKDOWN,” is a standout.

“This is the last piece I did for the series,” she says. “It was December and the Sandy Hook school shooting had just happened.”

Working in the public school system, Smith began thinking about her own standards of safety at the high school when Bozeman High, along with many nationwide, reacted to the Connecticut shooting with its own lockdown.

“On the Friday after Sandy Hook the principal came on over the intercom and told us this was a lockdown, and I could tell from the tone in his voice that it wasn’t a practice drill,” she says. “None of us knew what was going on. There were so many glitches, and it really instilled fear in all of us.”

The art piece looks at the history of school shootings. On the upper right corner is a library due card stamped with the dates of domestic school shootings; it begins with April 20, 1999, the date of the Columbine High School tragedy, and lists eighteen events ending with Sandy Hook Elementary.

“I started doing the research and was shocked at the number of shootings in this country,” Smith says.

There is also a library book cardholder containing the lockdown procedures for the high school and the class photos of the six students that were in the lockdown with Smith. But the most powerful image is the main one, a 1963 archival photograph of a little girl smiling, holding a flag in one hand and a handgun in the other. Around her head is the Betsy Ross circle of “stars” made with sequins. Smith uses pastel colors, which brings a sad naiveté to the overall piece. Layered underneath are former student’s sketchbook pages, overlaid with handgun transfer images and a columbine flower.

Not all the paintings in the show focus on powerful public events like "LOCKDOWN." Some of her pieces are more introspective, like “January.”

“The January piece is about my aunt and my relationship with her,” Smith says. “She was the first person to give me a camera. Recently, she came back into my life, so it’s a sweet thing, a tribute.”

Taken as a whole, "Play Along" lingers in the mind. The reminder is not only of the passing of time, month by month a piece of ourselves laid bare inside our jailed hearts, but the job of art to use each image like a key, to jab into our cage and let our tiny legs run free in the drouth.


Link here for the complete listing of Michele Corriel's artist profiles for the Magpie.

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