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May 27 - July 9, 2005 at Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood

by Andy Brumer

Master printmaker David Smith-Harrison’s current work combines the graceful free-flowing lines of trees and flowers, with the more rectilinear forms derived from classical architecture, churches and contemporary buildings. Titled “Natural Structures,” these twenty-four intaglio etchings and eight watercolors reveal the artist’s ambitious desire to observe and record his subjects with a quality of detail that is at once lyrically poetic and scientifically precise.

In a written statement, Smith-Harrison says, “I find as I compose, that I’m doing a sort of gardening on my printing plates/paper as a part of my desire to see things grow. . .It is all part of the way I examine and dream of life. My garden is a valuable muse and the source of much of my recent work.”

Indeed, these etchings do “grow” organically, many via the four copper plates and passes used in their creation, as Smith-Harrison executes and overlays each fully integrated, highly textured image with perfect color registration. Nature’s creations do not clash with those constructed by human hands and minds here; nor is there any friction between the romantic and classic values for which the artist’s trees and buildings stand as metaphors. Rather, like contemporary cityscapes, they complement, echo, embrace and even frame one another, as do actual architecture and landscaping in an elegantly designed city.

In “Cotoneaster,” for example, the artist squarely centers the berry laden tree thusly named in front of a church, then allows the energy and design intricacies of both forms to fuel a duet of spiritual and structural dialogue. In another intaglio etching, “Orchard III,” a field of wintry trees dance with wild and restless abandon, their bare black branches ready to overflowing with the copper plate’s ink. Spectral and sketchy Romanesque columns and arches lie submerged below the trees here, while above them, the massive, though faintly rendered side of what looks like a huge concrete city or federal building (the image also suggests the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) lurks with an authoritative presence.

The print succeeds largely because of the three bands of rhythmically composed images, and the calming effect it exerts. It also ingeniously renders the stratified passage of geologic time, as the antique buildings below seem to fertilize and engender the fleetingly animated trees. These same trees direct the eye toward a newly built edifice the confident strength of which projects us into the future.

“Orchard III,” 2004, intaglio
etching, 20 x 27 3/4” plate.

“Plum Tree III,” 2004, intaglio
etching, 9 3/4 x 8” plate.

“Rose IV,” 2004, graphite/
watercolor on paper, 8 x 6".

“Royal Palm with Turkish Design,”
2002, intaglio etching,
17 3/4 x 15 3/4” plate.

Smith-Harrison’s trees and flowers also function as self-portraits. One can imagine, for example, the dark crevices and folds of the incredibly sensitive and subtly rendered rose in the graphite and watercolor “Rose IV” providing sanctuary for the artist’s introverted side. The bushy fronds and spiky bark of a tall palm tree in the etching called “Royal Palm with Turkish Design,” on the other hand, celebrate the quirkier, perhaps more nonconformist aspects of the artist’s nature. In another piece a plum tree in blossom bends but heroically resists breaking under the paradoxical weight of its own fullness.