Emily Mae Smith - 20th Century to Now London Friday, June 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • "When I discovered it, I loved the idea that this word – ‘The Studio’ – would encapsulate everything you needed to know about art in some way […] The Studio becomes a container for me to write new myths and new stories."
    —Emily Mae Smith

    Immediately arresting in its clean, graphic quality and radically reduced palette, Raft on Siren Sea is a striking example of Texan-born Emily Mae Smith’s sophisticated blend of art historical reference, sharp-edged wit, and feminist revisionism. Belonging to a distinct body of work that places itself in direct dialogue with the fin de siècle arts periodical The Studio through the appropriation of its title and distinctive typeface, Raft on Siren Sea highlights Smith’s playfully subversive response to established art historical narratives. Blending visual references to Surrealism, the Chicago Imagists, and the various distinct movements associated with fin de siècle, Smith has developed her own, highly distinctive brand of ‘feminist pop’, introducing humour as a way of deflating and reframing assumptions related to women, class, and the imagined divisions between high and low culture.i


    Founded by Charles Holme with the utopian idea of bridging international communities by establishing and disseminating a shared visual language, The Studio was first published in 1893. Subtitled an ‘Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art’ it took the form of a monthly periodical – one of the first of its kind – and introduced the so-called Modern Style characterised by the likes of Aubrey Beardsley and Charles Rennie Mackintosh to both American and European audiences. As well as the title and its distinctive typography, Smith also borrows certain formal elements of the magazine, the simplified treatment of sinuous line and flat, broad contrasts of black and white so characteristic of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations and the limitations imposed by the printing process that are particularly obvious in Raft on Siren Sea.

    "… instead of going with whatever the canon of art history says, I actually just developed deeply personal relationships with specific paintings, giving them my read. 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

    In her first institutional solo show held at Le Consortium, Dijon in 2019, Smith dedicated a room to a selection of these ‘Studio’ pieces, which she has continued to work on since 2014. Presenting an enormous range in the art historical touchstones referenced, they are united as a body of works by the obvious inclusion of the text, and by the broader ideas that Smith finds embedded in the concept of ‘The Studio’ itself. Developing the notion that as a magazine and a physical space it encapsulates both the practice of artmaking and a knowledge of its history, Smith appropriates and occupies ‘The Studio’, installing her broom avatar as a way of making visible the historically marginalised work of women artists. An active and autonomous agent rather than a passive muse, using the studio conceit the broom is able to move across art historical space and time, parodying the tropes and narratives she finds there and rewriting them in Smith’s own, distinct visual style.


    Emily Mae Smith discusses her practice ahead of her 2019 solo exhibition at Le Consortium, Dijon.



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

    • Provenance

      Mary Mary, Glasgow
      Private Collection
      Phillips, London, 14 October 2022, lot 5
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Raft on Siren Sea

signed and dated 'Emily Mae Smith 2017' on the reverse
oil on linen
170 x 130 cm (66 7/8 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

£70,000 - 100,000 

Contact Specialist

Leonor de Osma
Head of Sale, 20th Century to Now
T +44 20 7901 7912
M +44 7584 086 052

20th Century to Now

London Auction 30 June 2023