David Smith “exploration of an open, linear structure”

David Smith with Australia (1951), outside his home in Bolton Landing.

David Smith with Australia (1951), outside his home in Bolton Landing.

He spent the thirties and forties within the frame of modern convention. After World War II, together with his Abstract Expressionist friends, Smith reached for a larger feeling beyond that frame, prewar art having become too small and fine-fingered. He elevated both the physical and metaphysical scale of his work and began drawing in space with a kind of fierce joy. (Australia, his great sculpture from 1951, could be the ancient bird that wings through our dreams.) He immersed himself in nature, finding the human trace in its enlarging energies. A landscape, he wrote in 1947, “is a still life of Chaldean history / it has faces I do not know / its mountains are always sobbing females / . . . it is the place I’ve traveled to and never found.

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