With the visual sensibilities of a painter, Debra Smith manipulates stripes and forms shapes with a gestural, geometric abstraction. But she is not painting. She is intuitively piecing found silk fabrics from vintage kimonos and men’s suit linings. The outcome is a very specific and well-developed visual language that relates more fully to drawing and painting than to the nature of textiles.
These materials from the intimate insides of traditional men and women’s garments also carry a conceptual weight. The austere stripes of men’s suit linings are similar in texture but have a more striking presence than women’s kimono fabric in soft, transparent shades of ivory, creating a strong visual balance of masculine and feminine representation. Despite complex underlying dualities of artist and artisan, masculine and feminine, gestural and constructed, the end result is a pleasingly straight-forward visual vocabulary.
Smith has recently been working from a larger studio in Kansas City. Her new space allows her to hang large sections on the wall and stand back at a distance to assess them. This has resulted in an expansion of her compositions from easel-size to over-sized, with the individual pieces growing in proportion. The experience of her latest pieces is as if one has turned up the volume when a great song came on. Their attention-commanding scale has a confident and sophisticated presence that allows the viewer to consider the formal aspects of composition and spatial relationships over any stereotypes associated with textile art.
In 2012 Smith was honored as one of the Women to Watch 2012: Focus on Fiber & Textiles from The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC. Her work has been shown internationally over the past two decades, including solo & group exhibitions, Release of Time, Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (2012), In-between Spaces/ New work, Roswell Museum & Art Center, Roswell, NM (2010), Looking to The Left, Julie Saul Gallery, NYC (2008), Sense of Presence, Davidson Gallery, Brisbane, Australia (2004), Celestial Navigation, Vancouver, BC (2002). After living in Brooklyn, NY, for over a decade, Smith returned to her native Midwestern roots in 2004. She now lives in Kansas City, where she continues to create art from vintage textiles.