Alexandria Smith sits in chair in studio

Painter Alexandria Smith Puts Identity in Focus

"Pretend Gravitas and Dream Aborted Givens" feels like a decided shift in your practice from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional. How else is it a change?

This new body of work is a departure from the collage paintings that I’ve been making over the years. Previous works drew on symbology that I’ve been using since before graduate school—so, over a decade now—which references identity development and amalgamations of girlhood. I call these new works “dimensional assemblage paintings,” and they have more of a linear narrative arc than my previous pieces. The world within these paintings is connected. Part of that connection is the symbol of the window that repeats in all the paintings that I’m making for my Gagosian show.

What do windows represent in these paintings?

For me, the window allows multiple perspectives to be present at one time. As the viewer, you are looking into a different world within the rectangle of an artwork. Additionally, within the confines of the painting you’re looking at another world through this window. And then, the figures are also looking through this window. There’s a shared perspective, but there’s also a disruptive one at play. I use windows to play up a level of confusion so that the viewer isn’t quite sure where they are within the story—and the characters I’ve created aren’t either.

woman in chair in studio
Alexandria Smith. Photography © Amoroso Films, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.

Was there a specific inspiration that sparked the move to these cut-out works?

When I first moved to London in 2019, right before the pandemic, I visited Venice with our RCA students on a study trip to the Biennale, and I went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I had never seen this before, but right next to a few of the paintings they had relief replicas of the artworks. You could go over to these mockups and feel the paintings. I was blown away. I remember thinking, ‘My goodness! This is the perfect way to make artwork accessible to people who are visually impaired.’ My dad, who passed away this past December, was visually impaired, so he couldn’t see any of my work. My experience at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection led me to think about dimensional paintings.