Concrete Realities 

Hard feelings
Concrete Realities
Through Jan. 3 at the Maitland Art Center
231 W. Packwood Ave., Maitland 407-539-2181

"Wet concrete is no joke!" says curator Richard Colvin, describing the molded and delicately patterned artwork on display for the first time ever at the Maitland Art Center gallery. MAC founder André Smith's talent is evident to visitors just walking around the grounds dotted with his work, yet his experiments in the 1930s with concrete as a fine art medium have never been formally exhibited.

Even today, fine artists working in concrete are rare; most notable is Zhang Yaxi, a young Chinese artist creating figures reminiscent of the Xi'an terracotta warriors. Smith, however, has yet to be matched in his approach to both figure and abstract pedestal sculpture and wall-mounted art.

For Concrete Realities, just like the center itself, there are thick, textural decorative elements, and structural members adorn walls, columns and windows, evoking exotic and otherworldly Mayan influences. This work bridges to the first room, featuring cast concrete heads and polychromed pre-Columbian figure studies. The next room departs from those motifs, mixing Maya and the swirling Surrealist movement of the '30s, with Smith injecting a healthy dose of his individuality into these works.

Sculptures 7 and 8 (most work is untitled) are architectonic, with intensely defined space and geometrically wrapped masses radiating energy from within. Across the same room and elsewhere, carved concrete wall panels depict portraits — nature-inspired complex geometric work — and two in particular, Nos. 16 and 17, are stunning. Abstracts from the Machine Age—Art Deco 1930s, they exude a monumental quality crying to be upscaled into wall murals. Strong diagonals sweep across these panels, vivid blue and green sub-patterns enhancing the lines, and organic shapes mixed with mechanical ones place these in a world of their own.

Christian-inspired work, where Smith imbued concrete with a sense of the humble and the sacred, is also beautiful. Finally, some gaily floral interwrapped paper disks have amazing spatial qualities. Altogether this show presents an inspired, happier Smith than the previous show's melancholy work, perhaps due to the physicality and commitment necessary to work in this medium. The Great Depression, inspiring so much individual experimentation, has also an element of mystery in it, and seems so far away; yet viewing this work today brings the 1930s back, fresh and inspiring once again to any artist looking for a reason to create unfettered, without the desire for immediate financial success.

More by Rex Thomas


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