Lives and works in Sydney
Ascendency—love over strife
2 March — 19 February 2022
All is revealed in Ben Smith’s exhibition title, Ascendency—Love over Strife, for in Smiths’ eyes, love is marching towards a phase of primacy in its constant battle to prevail over strife. In this body of work, Smith presents a wonderfully curious and romantic evocation of our deepest desires and of where we yearn to be. He offers us an opportunity to escape the complexities of contemporary life in search of utopia.
In the fifth century BCE, Empedocles described a world underpinned by love and strife; love being the force that unites—that mixes, blends and combines, and strife being the counterforce that separates. For Empedocles, it is love and strife that make the universe so dynamic as these cosmic forces engage in an eternal oscillation. In his exhibition—and heavily influenced by Empedocles’ philosophy—Smith shifts our focus to moments where we run wild under the total dominance of love. He allows our consciousness to escape from the real to the idyllic. These moments of cathartic release are expressed overtly; there is a palpable sense of relief for lovers plunging into pools or fleeing into an Edenic wilderness. Even the humble Kombi van offers a romantic escape route to a place of hope that is unshackled from contemporary anxieties. Smith reminds us that, in this very moment, the universe is in a state of play where love can transcend all.
The artist seduces us into his surreal reverie—a dream state where mystery and reality conflate. We enter landscapes where ethereal figures defy notions of gravity and illusions of space are paramount. It is in this ambiguous half-light that strange, yet beautiful, imaginings occur. Here, Smith conveys a strong sense of divine intervention where wonder and communion are on the rise. We are invited into a world of love, passion and ecstasy, both physical and spiritual.
Smith’s exhibition presents a thoughtful marriage of formalist figuration and abstraction. A remarkable painter and draughtsman, Smith draws us into his constructed landscapes where entwined figures drift against a backdrop of tonal graduations. It is in this realm that the amorphous surrounds begin to disappear, and the sensual embrace of Smith’s subjects come to the fore. With the artist’s delicate combination of vagary and precision, we are invited to experience fractured moments of intimacy where notions of space and time have collapsed.
Viewing Smith’s work, we are reminded of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s entangled sculptural forms. It is Bernini’s sense of lyrical movement and use of contrapposto that Smith so successfully translates into paint. Capturing his subjects’ twisting forms and the light and shadow of their skin, Smith portrays his lovers engaged in a fiery dance.
Smith’s suite of works is rich in beauty, wonder and optimism. In a world where strife has appeared to have gained the upper hand, Smith’s exhibition provides a timely reminder that love has the power to transcend all. It is now for us to take the plunge.