Smothers on the Happenstance of Painting
By NOAH BECKER February,
Mel Smothers, Refugee Raft
I spoke with Mel Smothers, he's a shy painter but I
feel like his work is interesting. His solo show opened in New York
City last week.
Noah Becker: How did you come up with the idea
of doing paintings of refugees?
Mel Smothers: I was camping with my wife on
the Dry Tortugas. A National Park, 75 miles across the ocean from
Key West. It's a desert island with a civil war fort. It's not a big
island, and restricted to 10 campsites and we stayed for only 3
days. There were the remains of a Cuban refugee raft there - I first
saw it as sculpture, like a Rauschenberg. Staring at the accidental
inventiveness of it, I was able to empathize with the desperation
that would have constructed and then set it off to sea. It stuck in
my mind for a few years and in 2017, I started getting visual ideas
of how I could respond to the concept of the raft.
Noah: Do you have influences that worked their
way into these paintings? Iím thinking Monet?
Mel: Thats funny, I once had a review that saw
my work as a confluence of Monet and Thiebaud. As a painter I find
art history has so many influences and I explore each new one that
has something to show me. That said, my biggest influence is Wayne
Thiebaud, he was my most influential teacher. I didn't have the
finances nor the academic credentials to study art, only desire. I
stole into Wayne's figure drawing class in California at UC Davis. I
was caught and removed, but two weeks later, my desire to learn to
paint got the best of my fear, and I went back - this time he took
me in. I was uneducated, I only knew I wanted to paint. He saw that
and introduced me to art history and the long tradition of painting,
and my place in it.
Mel Smothers, Refugee Raft #2
Noah: Do you think that painting is still
something that people should be doing in 2020?
Mel: The tradition of painting is too deep in
humans to be denied. Other forms of art making have found their
place in the museums and that's ok. Painters know what is inside
them, the need to make visual images, It's very hard to deny once
you've discovered you're a painter. It doesn't matter if you're a
Sunday painter, or the painter that gets success because of
privilege or social status, or the unknown, uncountable thousands in
NYC that have been successfully pushing painting into 2020.
Noah: How do you think about the use of colour
when your paint?
Mel: I love colour, it makes me feel good.
I've found the more years I paint, the more my sense of colour is
refined. Colour is still a thrill.
Noah: Tell us something about your opening how
it happened and when itís opening?
Mel: If you hang around NYC long
enough, even if you're an introverted painter, you meet people that
can help to get your paintings seen.
I met Lee and Damian when they opened their gallery, Dacia Gallery
#53 Stanton St. They have a different style of painting that they
wanted for their gallery, but they seemed to have found something
they liked in what I'm doing. So, if there is a gap in their
schedule I get a chance to show. There is a gap in the exhibition
schedule Feburary 15- March 14, 2020. This is my second solo show
Noah Becker shows his paintings
internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and
founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written
freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing
has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America,
Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has
also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli
and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New
York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube.