Meryl Smith: a few Questions from Paige Silveria

On view until December 23rd in the viewing room at Marlborough Contemporary is a long-awaited presentation by Meryl Smith entitled Liminal Kingdom. The exhibition showcases a series of oil paintings depicting the serene and elegant animals with elongated and intertwined figures — their lithe limbs at times giving them the air of aristocratic orthopterans — that she is known for. We tossed over some questions to catch up with the New York-based artist, who’s now busy organizing sculptural, painting and drawing pieces for an upcoming show next month.

How did the show all come together?

Leo Fitzpatrick and I had always talked about doing a show together, for at least ten years. I had recently been spending time upstate to get away from the city and focus only on art. That’s when I started using social media more and I think people in my community were aware that I was taking a little art retreat. Finally, the time was just right and Leo, who is now a director at Marlborough Contemporary, reached out to me and we set the wheels in motion. I had already been making this kind of art for quite some time, so the work in the show is a continuation only more focused and realized using oil paint. It was almost exactly one year that I made work strictly for this exhibition. There are many pieces that I made in the first four or five months that ultimately were not included, but they were still an essential part in the creative process that lead to the final paintings.

Tell me about the concept.

The works in the show, titled Liminal Kingdom, explore the idea existing in-between states of being and dimensions. The paintings show intertwined mystical, crest-like figures captured in moments between movements, often in moments of symmetry. Concepts of reality and the imaginary morph back and forth while the creatures are stretching and twisting in a more simple dream-like place. The word liminal describes a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. I think the word not only perfectly describes the art, but also the time of my life that I spent working on this show. I had just left a long-time job, lost two of my closest friends, and moved after 18 years, amongst other things. I definitely felt like I was living in my own personal liminal space. I believe that was all subconsciously informing my art.

Where did you move to?

I recently moved my studio to Williamsburg. I had previously been living and working out of the same apartment in the East Village for 18 years. While I was working upstate for a few months on this show, the opportunity for a new space presented itself. So I made the big move in the middle of everything. Actually, the oil paintings did not begin until I was in the new studio. It would have been extremely difficult to create this show before because I had no space.

Are you still working on sculptures?

Yes, I’m actually making some smaller sculptures for an upcoming show. However, sculpture has not been my main focus for the past six years or so. But I still think sculpturally and sometimes I feel creatively incomplete with manifesting my ideas three-dimensionally. While it has definitely taken a backseat for the time being, making sculpture feels fundamental for me.

Stay tuned for the upcoming group show Digging for Diamonds at the Disco on January 7 at Tony Cox’s new active space, Club Rhubarb in Chinatown.