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The most memorable experience of Wayne Smith's exhibition is that he is so good. Such technical skill is rarely, if ever, found, and it delights. His superb execution of a range of styles affords the viewer immense aesthetic pleasure. His surfaces, his mastery of form, are almost sufficient unto themselves.
But Smith is far more interesting than that, and I think it important to look at this present exhibition as part of his continuing development. To do that I need to take issue with the basic premise of George Petelin's review of Wayne's 1987 exhibition Function, Desire (eyeline, August, 1987). The hidden agenda in Petelin's review would seem to be suggesting that Wayne's role should be to recoup the humanist/modernist project of making meaning rather than to reflect the disintegration of meaning, but this is never made explicit. Doing that could throw George's own critical position into question.
Wayne, Petelin says, "projects ideas into things that, of themselves, lack adequate cues for recognition because they have lost their meaning through the distortions and dislocations of reproduction." That seems to define the work of art in the age of media explosion pretty well. George continues that Wayne "still wants them [ideas) to be recognized for their lost meaning, yet leaves out definite signifiers that an audience can connect to their own store of signifieds." But it might be argued that, in the postmodern condition, we are always struggling to recognize lost ideas, and with ever-decreasing ability.
In this present exhibition, in most of the works at least, I was able to find sufficient cues to read quite a bit about the construction and deconstruction of contemporary culture. If there is a theme, I'd say it's reproduction. Wayne appropriates painting genres from the Middle Ages onward, and commercial images which he renders in a photo-realist style, he also uses broken-windows, corrugated iron sheeting, and blackened slabs of wood - all reproductions of culture, a simulacrum of history.
Wayne depicts history in terms of its technological dross: building materials found in ruins; metal filings and disused nuts and bolts, painted as if they were bones in a Gothic graveyard; obsolete mechanical and electrical appliances juxtaposed with advertising images.
The largest work in the exhibition fills an entire wall and comprises four sections in varied but complementary styles, each section produced independently and put together at random – a demonstration of the chance principle of New Physics -which provides a lot of 3-D impact.
My favourite work uses an advertisement for a male perfume - the name "Obsession· is spread across it. It depicts a distorted image of a woman whose unusual posture creates a vagina-like shape (viewed upside-down, it is merely a woman clasping her knees). Smith's deconstruction of this devaluation of woman's sexuality is held in frame on two sides by a pastiche of Mondrian, but instead of clear primary colours, Smith uses dirty blue and puce. It is a sensitively made comparison of differing cultural values.
It may well be that, in producing these works, Wayne Smith has heeded George Petelin's advice on how to increase "the probability of success" because, for me, this present exhibition communicates very well.