I can’t remember the first time I met Paul Smith. Every time I’ve seen him, it seems as though he’s seen me first. From across a parking lot, perched on a window ledge, or from somewhere behind or below. Each time, he says my name with this nostalgic fondness as though months have passed since we saw each other last. “Robert,” he calls to me faintly (no matter how close), “what are you doing?” And the question is never idle chit chat. It is always an overwhelming expression of intention, as though my answer may lead him to pack a single bag and join me, or to challenge whatever path would lead to such an answer. “Just filling my car with gas…Paul.” No, Robert. What are you doing?
I’ve never verified these specific qualities with others; I’ve never needed to. Every time his name comes up in a conversation, I watch as the people who know him immediately gaze up or down, saying his name slowly and shaking their head. This is not out of frustration or disdain, but something close to the opposite. Paul’s constant stillness—his bold, reflective nature—is a presence one can’t help but feel simply by being around him. The head-shake his name invites may simply be exasperation with the ease by which he is a contribution to the world, even without his work.
And so it is for that reason that I have trouble writing more formally about Paul’s studio. The odd power of Paul’s personality neutralized my ability to observe and decode his studio practice in the way that a more seasoned writer might. Fortunately, my lack of insights into his practice is no loss for the greater public, as he continues to find the attention of finer, brighter lights elsewhere.
What is worth noting about Paul’s studio is the unsurprisingly provisional nature of it all. Paul clearly has no need to soothe himself with identity-assuring totems or mood-setting arrangements. There are no decorative shrines to whatever it is that inspires him, nor any obvious forms of systematic organization. Instead, there are bills pinned to the wall where he won’t forget them. A laptop. Paint and paintings everywhere. A bed and a microwave tucked into the less useful expanses. As much as anyone like Paul can really live in one place—he lives here. It’s isn’t clear if he’s moving in our out, and I suspect that is always the case.
More than once, Paul has startled me with his observations. Even when those observations aren’t squarely correct, there is a level of attention being paid by Paul to his surroundings that is higher than most people are comfortable with. After witnessing this aspect of Paul, one may make the quick assumption that his studio is a shining mainstay of the sharpest critical edge. But no, upon reflection it makes sense that his inner sanctum is not overbuilt. Nothing more than a room with some things. Because instead of over-building, he’s simply paying attention. He sees you first.
Smith is a winner of the 2013 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Awards. His work is currently being featured in a solo exhibition entitled "Mangos and Crab" at the Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago Illinois, and in "The Center is a Moving Target", a regional survey at the Kemper Museum at the Crossraods in Kansas City, Missouri.