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Greg Parma Smith

Albatross with Nimbus, 2016
oil and jewels on canvas
106.0 x 106.0 x 5.0 cm
Albatross with Nimbus is the very first painting of a series by Greg Parma Smith, in which a halo encircles various hyperrealistically depicted bird species and – more recently – seabed creatures. With its low-angle view, ornamented by a decorative set of small plastic objects (fake stones and animal stickers), the composition instantly evokes the artist’s taste for “mash-ups” – assemblages of heterogeneous elements.

Here he combines the opacity of a perspectiveless background with the more realistic, thinner rendering of the albatross, similar to wash drawing. These two modes of representation reflect the artist’s interest in composite forms of visual juxtaposition.

Although the bird’s wings unquestionably inspire a feeling of space, the canvas incidentally recalls the role of superimposition with its constant back-and-forth play between flatness and depth.

True to his penchant for pastiche, the thin pictorial layer of the plumage references – without trying to represent – the Chinese ink painting of the Song dynasty, also known as literati painting. This movement is characterized by representations that are more expressive than literal, in which moral and political allegory plays a central role.

Though symbols are just as essential in Parma Smith’s work, they must be interpreted more broadly. The feeling of freedom embodied by the albatross in full flight enables observers to go beyond admiration of great technical virtuosity and get transported to a more spiritual realm.

The joint presence of objects and fake precious stones not only relates to the decorative world, which is a constant element of the artist’s work, but it also reminds us of superstition, beliefs, or even the world of childhood. Their circular arrangement emanates a strong reference to art history. The nimbus, a luminous disc positioned so that it haloes the head of religious or divine figures, is here transposed into Greg Parma Smith’s highly secular culture.

These very cheap embellishment accessories, which are caricatures of cliché but devoid of irony or critical intention, are the emblem of an idealized world. The artist’s work once again assumes a hybrid form between painting and object, in which disparate iconographies meet, serving a discourse that is more narrative than ideological, and creating an impression of materiality that is at once unexpected and familiar.
Greg Parma Smith, Albatross with Nimbus, 2016