Emily Mae Smith - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Shimmering red droplets fall from the richly coloured sun-setting sky, sliding over slowly turning mechanical metal cogs as the moon begins to reveal itself in the distance. Without conforming to a specific artistic movement, the Texas born artist Emily Mae Smith draws from the breadth of art history to reference influences from Surrealism, Symbolism and Pop in a vividly unique contemporary aesthetic.


    Exhibited at CFA, Berlin’s group exhibition For Christa, Friends and Lovers in 2019, Industry City, 2019, pays homage to the late pioneer of German Pop Art, Christa Dichgans. The German artist developed her own private pictorial world, celebrating the surreal quality of the everyday in a vibrant Pop style. Within the exhibition, Emily Mae Smith represented a younger generation of artists just beginning to discover and draw inspiration from Christa Dichgan’s work.


    The positioning of the graphic red droplets and connecting cogs against the tonal skyscape in Industry City, emphasises the relationship between Emily Mae Smith and her Surrealist predecessors. Smith’s paintings are immediately discernible as a reaction to the renowned Belgian Surrealist Réne Magritte’s placement of objects against a sky strewn with clouds or arrangement of melting clocks in Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Using a surreal and pop aesthetic as her springboard, Smith addresses the human condition, pointedly the female side, through vivid allusions to the monthly cycle. Adopting reoccurring motifs throughout her work, including the broom figure, open mouth and, as in the present example, droplets of liquid, the artist notes how they are all poignant things with a ‘slippery signification. They mean things like labor, gender, power, control, mortality, transcendence, etc. They are forms doing the pictorial work of the intellect.’i


    Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory (La persistance de la memoire), 1931, oil on canvas. New York, Museum of Modern Art. © 2021. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS 2021

    Industry City is executed with Emily Mae Smith’s characteristically pristine application of paint on the canvas surface, with the quality of an airbrush application. Speaking of her first introduction into art as a small child, Smith recalls using rubbers to blend her markings and create smooth gradients, a technique that has carried through into her adult painterly practice.

    'I often paint in very thin transparent oil layers which allows light to pass through the surface similar to sunlight on still water, I do a lot of gradients with careful colour mixing, soft paintbrushes, and practice.'
    —Emily Mae Smith
    There is a tension between the highly polished painted surface of the work and the substance of its subject matter. The photo realistic detail and pop-aesthetic belies the defiant subtext: bright attractive colours paired with amusing, intriguing forms are used as a tool to draw the viewer in to the conversation. ‘The advertising-like effects get a viewer comfortable while the work is delivering a message that is more difficult. Subversion only works through familiarity.’ii Emily Mae Smith is currently the subject of a solo exhibition Emily Mae Smith: Harvesters at Perrotin, Paris following a solo show at Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels earlier in the year.


    Collector’s Digest


    •    Currently the subject of significant commercial and institutional attention, Smith has received important solo exhibitions around the globe, including at the Le Consortium, Dijon in 2018, Perrotin Gallery, Tokyo in 2019, the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah in 2020, and Rodolphe Janssen Gallery, Brussels, in 2021.


    •    Smith's solo show Harvesters opens October 16 at Perrotin, Paris.


    •    Just this year in Hong Kong, Phillips set the artist’s world record with Broom Life, which achieved $1,591,515 (HK$12,350,000), soaring over 20 times the work’s high estimate.


    •    Smith is due to have a solo show with Petzel in their New York gallery in 2022.

    i Emily Mae Smith, quoted in Layla Leiman, ‘Slippery Signification: In Conversation with Emily Mae Smith’, artmazemag, 11 October 2015, online
    ii Ibid.

    • Provenance

      Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts, For Christa, Friends and Lovers, 20 September - 26 October 2019


Industry City

signed and dated 'Emily Mae Smith 2019' on the reverse
oil on linen
94 x 122.3 cm (37 x 48 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £378,000

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 October 2021