Emily Mae Smith - New Now London Tuesday, July 13, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'I’m not an academic; I’m not a preacher. So humour is, for me, a much better way to start a conversation.'
    — Emily Mae Smith

    Witty, playful, and razor sharp, Brooklyn-based Emily Mae Smith’s luxuriant compositions balance a highly stylised pop sensibility with a carefully studied understanding of Surrealist iconography and art-historical reference. Utterly contemporary, Smith’s distinctive brand of what she has termed ‘feminist pop’ takes aim at dominant, often masculinist art-historical narratives, introducing humour as a way of deflating and reassessing entrenched assumptions related to women, class, and imagined divisions between high and low culture.i

    In its bold, bright palette filtered through soft, smooth gradients of deep reds, hot pinks and light peachy tones, Smith’s Human Condition shares in the clean, graphic style of fellow contemporary Surrealist Julie Curtiss. Like her French contemporary, Smith trades in a blunt juxtaposition of the banal and the bizarre, her paintings introducing an uncanny element that is deeply connected to her Surrealist forbears just as it challenges their limitations.
    'In a sense my paintings are a response to these paintings and the web of social, cultural and emotional weight they carry instead of a reference to them.'
    —Emily Mae Smith

    Immediately recognisable as a response to preeminent Belgian Surrealist Réne Magritte’s recurrent motif of enormous objects floating improbably against smooth, cloud-scattered skies, Smith’s blood-red backdrop recfracts this iconic image through the prism of her own experience. Growing up in rural Texas, Smith recalls her long drive to school ‘where I would capture these amazing gradients on an old 35mm camera I kept in my car’, later reimagining these ‘[f]iery hot and golden’ photographs in some of her most iconic works.ii


    Emily Mae Smith, Alien Shoes, 2018, Sold at Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Evening Sale, London, October 2020

    As well as borrowing from Magritte’s visual iconography, Human Condition makes a direct reference to his 1930s series La condition humaine, which all featured the depiction of a painting within a painting – a favourite motif of the artist. Obscuring the landscape behind it, Magritte highlights our tendency to read the painting on the easel as a faithful depiction of the landscape beyond. Overlooking the fact that both the ‘real’ landscape and its representation only exist within the fabricated world of the painting, Magritte draws attention to our shared assumptions relating to the nature of reality and representation as a fundamental component of the human condition. 
    While Magritte’s take on the subject is aridly intellectual, Smith subtly reinserts the corporeal, and the specifically female into her work through oblique suggestion. Gently mocking the masculinist assumptions of Magritte and his Surrealist cohort, Smith presents us with a decidedly more female take on the ‘human condition.’


    i Emily Mae Smith, quoted in ‘Broom With a View: Emily Mae Smith’s Humourous Art-Historical Revisions’, Elephant, 15 November 2018, online
    ii Emily Mae Smith, quoted in ‘Broom With a View: Emily Mae Smith’s Humourous Art-Historical Revisions’, Elephant, 15 November 2018, online

    • Provenance

      Deanna Evans Projects, New York
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Deanna Evans Projects, Buddy System, 13 June - 20 July 2018


Human Condition

signed and dated 'Emily Mae Smith 2018' on the reverse
oil on linen
25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 7 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

£20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for £69,300

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084

New Now

London Auction 13 July 2021