Sarah A. Smith Pushes the Possibilities of Gold Leaf with Drawings and Installations

by James ScarboroughPosted on

Sarah A. Smith has a particular set of drawings that merit notice for their expressive qualities. Her subject is the natural world. The compositions are dynamic and fluid, coiled in mid-strike. If you didn’t know they were drawings, you might think they were dioramas. Subject matter includes eagles and wolves, trees and shrubs. Sometimes there’s a drawing of an eagle, sometimes there’s one of a wolf. Sometimes the two are locked in combat though, as in Eagle Vs. Wolf, you can only see the wolf responding to the eagle overhead. The work is dynamic. The shapes are sharp and angular. They look like lightning bolts. If you could rub the head of the eagle or the wolf, you’d feel its coarse texture. Likewise with the bark of the trees: rub it and you’d get splinters. The scenes offer voyeuristic views of the natural world in its rawest element. It’s a perilous, zero sum world. Its narrow color palette suggests bleakness.

What makes the work unique, beyond its vivid compositions and its energetic, detailed drawings, is its medium. Though the title of one of the pieces, “Gold Country,” gives you a hint, you’d never realize that these drawings are made from gold leaf. Knowing that, the work becomes more remarkable. From a technical standpoint, the details, the color gradations and the textures are impressive. They’d be hard enough to achieve if done with pen and ink. Introduce the process of minting and you want to pore over each square inch of each drawing.

Sometimes you want craft to be invisible, the better to focus on a subject. Here, though, foregrounding the technique adds a whole other layer of meaning to the work. Like eagles and wolves, unprospected gold exists in the wild. It’s up to artists like Sarah A. Smith to mine wild nature both as subject and media. The results are sterling.

Installations and sculptures:

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