“Chapel is my expression of the sacred quality of the beauty and power of Nature.”
– Wendi Smith
In her most recent show, EX-FACULTY (at PYRO Gallery in Louisville), Wendi Smith exhibited an installation called Chapel. The result of five years of work that the artist describes as an ”obsession,” it powerfully merges her themes of ritual and ritual objects with Nature. The installation incorporates forms she has explored for years, such as mandalas, with pattern and placement crucial in unifying the various elements in the complex construction. In her artist’s statement for the work, Smith explains:
“In Chapel, the deep appreciation of the Natural world, the complexity and interconnection of elements, species, and environments of the Earth are presented in a traditional form. The choice to make an altarpiece and altar is my expression of the sacred quality of the beauty and power of Nature.
Regardless of the other spiritual connections we have in our lives, we are all connected by the place in the universe that we call our own.”
The central panel of the altarpiece is a visual progression from Earth to water, to one-celled microbes, to protozoa, to amphibians and reptiles, to birds. The central mandala is a camellia, whose symmetry mirrors the perfection of the Earth. At the top, the Milky Way spins, an illustration of our small place in a huge network of stars.
The left panel is the sea, a huge portion of the planet - birthplace and sustainer of life. The right panel is the land, and all that it produces. The lower panels are a nod to the tradition of Renaissance artists of the inclusion of patrons of their work as portraits.
The altar is a combination of created and collected elements. Each component is integrated stylistically through the use of pattern, metallic leaf, and a palette rooted in nature.
The candlesticks are painted on wood boxes combined with turned tops and bases. One is painted depictions of galaxies, stars, and nebulae, all based on photographs from the Hubble telescope. This is the macro, the all-encompassing elements, and the stardust of which all the rest of universe is composed. The second is cells, including plant cells, animal cells, and brain cells, the micro. This is the biological material that composes organic life. They each have a serene beauty, a power, and the potential of all creation. They work in the same direction; create a balance, a fine symmetry.”
The formal structure of Smith’s altar is much like others we find in many religions. The severity of the symmetry forces us to position ourselves in a specific relationship to the divine, with design and symbols that provide a touchstone for connecting our faith and belief to something outside of ourselves. It is how we find our place in the world and make sense of our existence. For Smith, that seems to require we recognize our place in the complex web of nature.
She uses an array of created and collected objects. The found items are mostly organic specimens: rocks, seeds, feathers, nests, bones, and a few books about Nature. Some of the motifs are simple and specific: an acorn, a flower, a mushroom, while the most dominant images speak to a universality that humbles us as simply one more of these items. They speak to the elemental aspect of the spiritual message she seeks to impart. No more or no less important in the largest scheme of things.
Selected Permanent Collections:
Waterfront Park Place, Louisville, KY
Commonwealth Bank and Trust, Louisville, KY
Mayan Gypsy Restaurant, Louisville, KY
Citizens Fidelity Bank, Louisville, KY
Colwell Financial Corporation, Louisville, KY
John Graham Brown Cancer Center, Louisville, KY
Kentucky Foundation for Women, Louisville, KY
First National Bank, Glasgow, KY
Red Geranium Restaurant, New Harmony, IN
Johnson and Higgins Insurance, Louisville, KY
Bristol Myers Squib Corporation, Evansville, IN
Milner Library, Normal, IL
Tolentine Center, Olympia Fields, IL
Kentucky Center for the Arts, Louisville, KY
Glenview Trust, Corporation, Louisville, KY
Hometown: Corydon, Indiana
Education: MS Painting, Illinois State University, 1975
Gallery Representation: PYRO Gallery (Louisville)
Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2016 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.