Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Gallery Watch: Sei Smith: Portraits of You at Ki Smith Gallery

Text by Clare Gemima 
Photos by Grace Shine Jeon

Portraits of You by Sei Smith
Ki Smith Gallery, 197 E. Fourth St.

I feel lucky to live so close to Ki Smith Gallery — not because of the geographic convenience or their fun and social openings. I visit Ki Smith Gallery for the art and its engaged, intellectual, and fascinating artists.

I would like to applaud this gallery for presenting and committing to an ethos that positions itself within an art historical context. A special thanks to Gallery Director Claire Foussard for offering such support to the artists at Ki Smith and to artist Sei Smith for his enthusiasm and willingness to talk to me about his new show, Portraits of You. 

Smith has created a series of figureless portraits, forcing an audience member to immediately question ideas around contemporary art jargon or any preconceived notion of what a portrait-painter could be today. This wit and finesse at articulating such are consistent throughout the eight works that line the gallery's space. Smith uses an iridescent adhesive film throughout this body of work which acts to obscure identity informing under-paintings. 

Eight works represent Smith's various relationships to eight different friends who range in backgrounds (and statures). Smith has reinforced this concept of diversity in highly creative ways, including height-specific installation techniques, his choice in titling the work and through the materials he chooses to play with. 

The work comes full circle to me conceptually because, by nature, these works are reflective. Seeing yourself within the work teases and tests your impulses to look for things you didn't think were ever there. It wasn't until I read more about the work that I realized the under-coats of acrylic were really the ID of the painting, and deciphering all of them was challenging but in a slow reveal sort of way. 

It was also a beautiful experience because of the tonality of the film coating (think reds, pinks, oranges, ruby, purple, etc.). Having this knowledge was not imperative to the viewing experience. Still, it definitely made me want to go back after reading the artist's viewing instructions to learn more about who his muses were, or at least through their instructions for Sei, who they wanted to be portrayed as. 

There is more than meets the eye in Portraits of You. Because of the iridescent top coating of the paintings, the work changes color depending on your angle. As you move from one piece to another, the light in the gallery hits differently, creating new narratives for each of the works. A live personification happens before your eyes. It is intimate and almost self-indulging. 

The show is fun but also wrapped in intellect that will excite you about the direction of Smith's career. I'm looking forward to seeing more. After the last show I covered at this space, the artist's inquiries and concept handling have already been embraced, updated, upgraded and re-navigated. 

Please read more about Sei's practice here. And follow the most up-to-date events and openings from Ki Smith Gallery here.

Portraits of You is up through Oct. 17 at the gallery, 197 E. Fourth St. between Avenue A and Avenue B. Hours: Wednesday-Sunday from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. Alternative times available by

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Clare Gemima is a visual artist from New Zealand. New-ish to the East Village, she spends her time as an artist assistant and gallery go-er, hungry to explore what's happening in her local art world. You can find her work here: 

1 comment:

Christopher Pelham said...

Clare, I just want to say I enjoy reading your enthusiastic and accessible posts about our neighborhood art exhibitions.