dean smith home
San Francisco Chronicle
'Space: 1999' at Incline Gallery in S.F.
November 1, 2013

People conversant with contemporary art tend to forget how bizarre and baffling it can appear to those unprepared to take it in. That recognition seems to inform "Space: 1999," a striking small group show of new work by Bay Area artists at the Incline Gallery...

The show borrows its title from a failed sci-fi TV series about castaway earthlings, marooned in space by the destruction of their lunar colony, having to negotiate a new, world-less existence... But art can tender reassurances that we are not alone in experiencing an alienation that cannot yet speak its name because it has none. "Space: 1999" to the rescue...

Dean Smith, known for fanatically detailed abstract compositions in drawing and painting, has turned in an adhesive graphic wall hanging that has to be viewed with 3-D glasses (provided) to do its creepy thing: creating a bulbous optical hole in the wall that moons its viewers as they move.

"Space: 1999" tries its best to translate to "Time: 2013," letting science and fiction take care of themselves. It merely asks that we put its emotional relevance to the test of our own experience.

The Philadelphia Inquirer
GALLERIES: Infusing useful objects with unexpected identities
April 17, 2011

Dean Smith, a Bay Area artist, and Mark Sheinkman, a Manhattan-based one, are well-matched in a two-person show at Gallery Joe: Smith's pulsing drawings are compositions of fastidiously drawn concentric lines; Sheinkman's undulating "drawings" develop through his erasures of his drawings.

Though abstract, Smith's obsessive drawings can resemble scallop shells, parts of the human body covered with hair, cross-sections of tree trunks, and other natural patterns. They're as labor-intensive and meditative as Tibetan sand painting, but also full of dark humor.

Sheinkman's erasure drawings are simpler than the works of his last show here. Images that used to suggest curls of smoke stolen from film-noir close-ups have given way to looping, less-referential forms. Curiously, they're more mysterious than ever.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Review
Dean Smith: thought forms 2003-2009
v. 43, no. 31, April 29, 2009

Call it the tumbling dice effect: dice keep appearing within Bay Area art this spring. .Yet the best invocation of chance and rolling dice takes place just out of sight - or does it? - in a knockout piece within Dean Smith's "thought forms 2003-2009" at Gallery Paule Anglim. Smith's colored-pencil drawing thought form #11, from 2005, was generated by repeatedly rolling a tetrahedron. Smith's process renders an object - a meta-die - that is both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, and that ultimately collapses or blooms free from dimensionality. The piece's shades of blue make this state of play a flirtation with the sublime.

The dice games mentioned above are something different from the clichéd forest animals and color-theory rainbows that invaded Bay Area art during stretches of the last decade, or the skulls that took over Artforum in the wake of Damien Hirst's For the Love of God (2007) and Don Ed Hardy's mass-production of tattoo imagery - they aren't trendy gestures so much as chance manifestations. Smith's thought form #11 is one expression within a multiyear project that yields ever-changing graphite on paper works and video. The pieces at Paule Anglim span from 2003 to 2008 and evoke everything from space ships or outer space community outposts to totems and medieval devices, while never remaining stuck in specificity.

The Monthly Review
Critics Choice: Art - Small Subversions
v. 39, no. 7, April 2009

Over the past half-century, the Bay area has been home to numerous artists who approach their art-making with a zeal easily seen as obsessive. At the top of the ladder is Jay DeFeo, of "The Rose" fame, and Bruce Conner, who not only filmed the removal of DeFeo's 3,000-pound painting from her studio, but spent years building masterful film collages comprised of thousands of feet of found and stock footage.

Looking at the current work of Berkeley-based artist Dean Smith, it's easy to see how he fits into this John-Henry-versus-the-steam-hammer lineage.

But its also important to look at Smith's work in the context of spiritual art like Tibetan Buddhist sand paintings. Smith's recent drawings are large-scale efforts, comprised of acres of graphite minutely drafted into strange and beautiful shapes. Each piece seems to be built from a quiet, almost religious practice of repeatedly etching pencil onto paper.

But their origin is not about mark making as a path to enlightenment. Smith has titled all the pieces in this recent series as "thought forms." And his drawings are just that - visual explorations of patterns of thought, attempts to transform abstract ideas and feelings into something concrete. Each "thought form" comes off as an extended and eloquent examination of the nearly invisible. The intense detail guides the viewer into a realization that these images must have been greatly enlarged, as if seen by the artist through an electron microscope.

In fact, Smith has likened the abstract structures in his drawings to microscopic protein structures known as prions. Believed to be the basis of a number of untreatable fatal diseases like the so-called mad cow disease, prions have the same composition as normal cell proteins, but can invade brain cells, converting normal proteins into duplicate prions. They become impossible to destroy without killing the host.

Which brings us back to Smith's idea of creating a schematic diagram of a thought. Like a prion, or even our very own thoughts, his intensive drawings never really leave us alone.

Artweek Review
Gay Outlaw and Dean Smith at Gallery Paule Anglim
February 2007

Our daily lives within urban architecture force us to confront intentional patterns and forms. These forms, buildings and packaging are constructed to maintain balance and order. Many patterns are so smooth and seamless they could easily be ignored, stepped on or over that is until they are pulled out of utility and altered in a way for us to realize the order of the space around us. Gay Outlaw and Dean Smith do just that. Wrenching pattern from its scripted forms, they create objects, drawings and photocollages that aestheticize the shapes and repetition that define both post-minimalism and the everyday world.

Smith's drawings are tight, obsessive patterns stroked one small pencil mark at a time until a shape or shapes layered precisely on top of one another come into focus. Comparable to a visceral slap in the face, Smith's works stir an immediate sense of attractive wonder. Their balance, precision, and simple palette pull the viewer close, eyes right to the paper almost in disbelief that the drawings are done by hand, that they are real. Each individual mark generates another and another until an image reveals itself.

Here, triangles, octagons, stars, and squares are the essence of organic forms. They become the texture of mountains, the growth patterns of plants without ever leaving their abstracted lines, which appear and continue to appear exponentially on the paper. Smith's vision is as light-hearted and warm as it is serious and demanding.

Stretcher Review
December 12, 2006

Dean Smith is presenting small works on paper at Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco through December 16. Made of either fluorescent ink or graphite on paper, each of the drawings deploys tiny, repetitive marks to produce either a complex field or a simple shape in a color field.

Remarkably, the graphite marks in "intooutof #3" and "focusing #2, 2006" turn from dark grey to silver depending on the viewer's distance from the wall. Combined with the complexity of the small marks' configuration, and the relationship Smith creates between center and corners, the shifting grey to silver light produces a dynamic fluctuating field. The most intriguing work is therefore titled "intooutof #3, 2006"; it bends space.

"Spot #5, 2006" is a shape composed of concentric circles of tiny fluorescent green marks in a pink field. If Smith's graphite marks are made by his keeping his pencil sharp, so these ink markings are made by the point of a very fine pen. Small repeated marks, fluorescent ink and complementary colors produce a volume of intense light.

These are labor-intensive centering devices referring in a general way to botanical processes of crystallization and growth.

Art on Paper Review
EXHIBITION REVIEWS: NEW YORK - Dean Smith at Marvelli Gallery
v. 9, no. 2, November/December 2004

Dean Smith's drawings recall the intricate symmetries of M. C. Escher's compelling compositions. Like Escher, Smith is obsessed with perspective, order, and the repetition of geometric forms. Three large black-and-white drawings from Smith's "thought forms" series (all 2004), which were on view at Marvelli Gallery earlier this fall, best illustrate the comparison: each features perfectly rendered cubes layered one upon the other, creating the effect of three-dimensional rays emanating out from central cubes. Using graphite, Smith meticulously shades in each of the cubes to achieve subtle gradations of grays and blacks to suggest depth.

Another drawing, compass (2004), also takes the form of radiating beams. In this work, Smith presents countless tiny reed-like shapes that seem to jut away from the drawing's surface in an aureole-like pattern. Each component in the composition is carefully shaded and drawn with impressive precision.

New York Times Review
September 24, 2004

Mr. Smith, who lives in California, makes formally and materially engaging drawings that involve labor-intensive processes of graphite application. Some consist of zillions of tiny marks radiating from central points, and suggest furry textures or magnetic fields; others describe complex configurations of boxes in space, with straight lines incised into satiny graphite surfaces, and hint at a Platonic metaphysical dimension.

ARTnews Review
REVIEWS: NATIONAL: Dean Smith, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica
v. 103, no. 2, February 2004

Using graphite or silver metallic ink, Dean Smith forms large abstract shapes from myriad, tiny strokes. The eight exquisite drawings here revealed a patient and meticulous mind.

In intooutof (2003) and focusing (2002), he covered an entire page with an energetic, geometric explosion of hair-like markings resembling an animal's pelt. Simple, direct triangles emerge from the blanket of soft, gray markings.

In each of the three drawings from his "thought form" series (2003), a dark, complex mass resembling a brawny asterisk floats in the center of a white page. The figure's appendages neatly zigzag as patterns of shadow and light glimmer on the silky, iridescent graphite surface, creating the illusion of three-dimensionality.

In lunaire #1 (2002), Smith used silver metallic ink to create a circle out of tiny, interconnected loops, which build concentrically. Slightly variegated tomes of ink applied in band-like sections leave traces of the artist's hand and the passage on time, not unlike rings in a tree trunk.

A black-and-white animated video projection in the back gallery was accompanied by a droning electronic soundtrack that could be heard throughout the gallery. Architectural and abstract, the video created an effect of looking down a corridor from behind opening and closing elevator doors. As the screen morphed, it belched out bursts of light and dark. Barely intelligible was a man's voice uttering the phrase, "the mind revealing itself."

Smith's lush, careful drawings appeared to map the musings of his energetic mind.

Los Angeles Times Review
Motion, Mind and Mystery
November 14, 2003

New drawings by Dean Smith are the centerpiece of his engrossing show at Christopher Grimes Gallery, but "labyrinth" his short video playing in the back gallery, is in itself worth the trip. A mesmerizing haunt, the grainy black-and-white film (shot on Super 8 film and transferred to digital video) consists of a sequence of images of spaces opening up to us and seeming to close behind us. The motion is continuous and strong but not always directed forward. Instead, the rhythm - of both the movement, and the synthesized score - feels like a pulse, thrumming and throbbing without a distinct beginning, middle or end.

Smith names the video after the labyrinth in Greek mythology, an underground maze built to imprison the half-human, half-bull Minotaur. In the video, the setting is a cross between underground parking garage and stark temple. Pillars and smooth walls define spaces but only vaguely and briefly. The scene shifts continuously, so that the sensation of passage is irrevocably bound with the feeling of disorientation, akin to the urgent navigation of a dark maze.

In just under six minutes, Smith's video effectively positions us inside a place that evokes both the recesses of the body and the channels of the mind. Smith thrusts us, midstream, into a process with primal undertones. Through the video, he's also enveloped us in the spaces of his own drawings.

Smith's drawings and video share essential qualities of geometry, depth and mystery, and they build momentum from rhythmic repetition and reverberation. At their best, the drawings also have a mesmerizing effect.

In one, Smith has drawn a pattern of tiny lobes in metallic ink. They repeat to form a circle about 3 feet in diameter, a shimmering blossom of minute silver petals. In two other pieces, the Bay Area artist densely fills triangles of different sizes set within each other with small stabbing strokes of graphite that radiate outward. The sense of motion is palpable, like a pulsating electric current.

The networks that Smith conjures bridge the macroscopic and microscopic. Whether composed of angular facets of looping lines, they feel organic in origin - plant forms, neurological patterns, cosmological visions. The effort Smith puts into them straddles the meditative and the obsessive.

Smith taps into an old and constant human impulse here: to render the invisible visible. His earlier drawings reference scientific phenomena like black holes and mathematical constructs such as the Fibonacci sequence. He titles several of the new drawings "thought forms," suggesting provisional maps of consciousness. They bring to mind Wassili Kandinsky's theories regarding the spiritual in art and the power of abstract form to speak directly to the soul.

Smith has accomplished that in this largely remarkable show. He's closed art's miraculous loop, reaching the internal mechanics of the mind through the exacting efforts of the hand.

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