The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in a public gallery in Canada by American artist Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996). Focusing on paintings and works on paper from the 1950s, the exhibition charts a critical moment in Smith’s artistic career in which the signature visual language of his work began to manifest, reflective both of prevalent trends of the time and an increasing engagement with the contexts of his upbringing and identity.
Through almost forty works, the exhibition traces a period in which Smith initiated a move away from the Eurocentric impulses of his formative years to embrace and make plain connections to his rural upbringing in the American Southwest, his Indigenous heritage and his identity as a gay man. At times playful, Smith’s refraction of his background is evidenced throughout his work: in his distinctive palette, in his approach to titling, and in the frequent evocation of body, place and landscape, at times recalling shapes, colours and patterns he experienced in his life, family and surroundings.
Big Form, Big Space provides a timely opportunity to re-evaluate Smith’s place within art history, looking beyond the strict appreciation of his place within hard-edge modernist abstraction to encompass broader considerations of context, time and identity.