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'Boundless' in motion...

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Date Minted: May 19, 2020

Artist Description: Animated edition of my painting 'Boundless'. "To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders." ~ Lao Tzu.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Despite a style that leans heavily into both surrealism and psychedelia, artist Tomas Erik Smith never, even for a moment, fails to center humans in his work. Literally front and center, his 27 pieces on Superrare all revolve around the human body: always identifiably female, but without preference given to any specific age, race, distance, or position. Always, however, the female face is the driving factor in Smith’s work, something he never moves away from, only more deeply and eloquently explores. But like the woman’s face in ‘Boundless’ in motion…, Smith traffics in incompletions as well. Smith’s style almost always fractures the womens' faces he captures, obfuscating pieces of his subjects with great balls of floating color, clouds of haze, or other surrealist, suddenly-eruptive characteristics. The effect is seriously ungrounding. The effect is seriously mesmerizing. We are drawn into the minds of Smith’s characters so much more because of their incomplete nature, because of our innate human desire to see something and understand its totality, to order it and examine it. Human beings are social creatures. We seek to see and know those whom we come across. Smith keeps us from this, keeps us from making good on our basest social urge for connection. There’s always something getting in the way of the observer and the object in Smith’s works, Boundless’ in motion… included. We are shown a person, shown a world, but kept at a distance, as if we aren’t meant to know or understand all that is nevertheless laid out before us. 

Smith’s “detailed figurative work combines magical realism and surrealism revealing an outward expression of the subject's internal reality -- an otherwise invisible and dreamlike world,” reads his Superrare Bio. In Smith’s own words, "’I'm fascinated with the unexplained nature of our universe and the human experience. The imaginative, psychedelic, and visionary experiences of our dreams, and those that bleed over into our waking lives.’” This provides us a helpful lens with which to first examine Boundless’ in motion…

Because “the unexplainable,” as a concept, is quite creatively depicted in this piece here. Not the illogical. Not the insane. Not the confounding. But the unexplainable, that deep part of us that is able to recognize ineffable things, understanding them in an emotional sense, perhaps, or by way of some nameless spirituality, if not in rationale. Boundless’ in motion… is like Smith’s other works in that it too centers around a woman’s face. This one is pale skinned, and that pale skin is exposed from her cheek and nose down to the cleft between her breasts. A dagger of shimmering, milky moonlight in an otherwise black and blue and blood-red piece. No wonder she so draws our attention: She is colored so contrastingly to the rest of the piece. But this is just a fragment of her skin, all else is concealed in the darkness that eats up the image elsewhere. The subject seems to be wearing a featureless shirt, perhaps a black shirt, open down to the chest, but it’s hard to tell since everything but that aforementioned sliver of skin is caught up in Smith’s surrealist nebula.

The rest of the piece positively swirls. Literally, the colors all around the piece seem to be moving perpetually in a counter-clockwise manner around the subject, animated in a way that sometimes mimics billowing smoke, at times disappearing into thin air but never lessening in thickness. The left and right sides of the piece are primarily coated in this blue-black smoke. The bottom half of the piece concerns itself with black-and-red colors, less smokey and more like the aforementioned flowing blood. In places, the movement of the red is really sanguine and intense, kind of sickening, as if a reminder of warfare, or of suicide, or of homicide, situations where wet blood may pool on a floor. Up on the top quadrant of the image, however, the swirling imagery takes concrete shape. There are small circles, small squares, small diamonds, still seeming to billow, yes, but positioned above the woman’s head as if to emulate a large, gaudy Elizabethean wig, a hairstyle done up taller than a termite nest. 

When we zoom in on every part of the piece individually, we get a sense of their textures: gaseous and liquid. But when we pull back and observe the piece in its totality, we seem to be hurtling through space, chasing quasars, staring off into the void, observing immaterial effects that we can recognize, sure, but cannot quite name.

And therein lies that “unexplainable” nature Smith tries to capture. His women are almost always in this position, fragmented by the very forces which consume them, which whirl and swirl around them, which shuttle them off into whatever faraway locale they exist in when we come across them, some place ruled by dream logic, ruled by far-out space logic, ruled by the logic of the unfamiliar and unfixed. “‘To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.’ ~ Lao Tzu.” reads Smith’s artist description. Indeed, one gets the sense from looking at his entire oeuvre, that Smith is interested in mentality, in the ineffability of simple, simplified human consciousness. His women are surrounded by color and animation. More than surrounded by, the color and animation seem to emanate from within them, as if, here in Boundless’ in motion…, the absent top-half of the woman’s skull has been blown off by the force of the internal world within her.

Yet, even here, working with dark and brooding colors, there is a sense of peace that pervades Smith’s pieces. Is he trying to allude to the inner peace which is the birthright of all people, if only we can find a way to attain it? I have had Buddhist teachers tell me that enlightenment is not something we find externally, but something we strip away parts of ourselves to find deep within. It’s hard to tell if there is an exact theme or message worming through Boundless’ in motion… composition, or throughout the whole of Smith’s works. But that’s okay. It would seem antagonistic to his ethos if there were any one thing being explored here, being transposed for examination. Smith’s work, like his intentions, are vague, almost primordial, a collection of artistic building blocks placed beside each other. Not for examination. But for experience. Smith is trying to capture something beyond verbiage. And here, indeed, these petty words no longer help me understand what they fail to describe.

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