Dr Edwin M.E. Smith
Turning a private practice into a public one, Dr Edwin M.E. Smith created one of his signature duct tape works live at the City Art Fest. It was an important moment for the artist and educator, who is passionate about the importance of creating opportunities for the audience to witness, and interact with, artists as art is being made.
Having found inspiration in the work of Richard Saunders for many years, Dr Smith felt at home working within the Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders exhibition. Detached from the main gallery, the Ondaatje Wing provided a sanctuary amidst the hustle and bustle of the day and allowed him to work quietly, whilst simultaneously sharing his process with visitors.
We caught up with Dr Smith to discuss what it was like to work in front of an audience and why everyone should know, and be able to speak readily about, the artists in their own community.
BNG: Thank you for taking part in the City Art Fest! It was wonderful to have so many artists involved, all doing different things across the two galleries in celebration of BNG and BSoA’s joint centenary. What was your experience of the event?
ES: It was great to be in the environment of individuals who wanted to show and talk about their art and practice and those who wanted to see and experience it all. This may be the beginning of something very special.
BNG: Your first duct tape work for BNG was Transience, exhibited in the 2020 Bermuda Biennial. Visitors were awed by the scale and detail of the work and were amazed to discover when they got up close that it was made entirely from duct tape. How did this piece first come about?
ES: I have had students create duct tape installations at Bermuda College but I had never considered it seriously for my own intentions as the primary medium before creating a work in Gibraltar. Within an exercise where the art residency participants created from supplies and materials that were provided – I selected the duct tape. Transience was originally to be a large painting. It was an aesthetic moment for me when, in my planning process, the message and the appropriate medium – duct tape – came together in a perfect fit. Tape is utilitarian, readily available, and associated with a temporary existence. A bonus for me is that traditionally it is available in my desired palette! I feel that I have not exploited this medium and so l want you to look out for more large installations coming from me.
BNG: I remember watching you work on Transience as we were installing the show, methodically piecing it together day after day. It was fascinating to watch. I’m glad that visitors to the Art Fest got to see your process in action. What was it like having people watch you at work?
ES: I enjoyed every minute. Some visitors watched for a bit and then left. Some got in very close and asked lots of questions. Some surprised me when I thought I was alone but then sensed their presence and learned that they had been nearby watching for a little while. I believe there was a lot of genuine interest. For me, if the interest is there, I am glad to share my thinking about the work, my concept, the journey, and art in general. I did not get as much done on the work as I had imagined but I recognise that the objective was more on the interaction.
BNG: Artmaking is often a private process, is that usually the case for you?
ES: You are absolutely correct in that artmaking, especially for visual artists, occurs more in the privacy of a studio. Undisturbed time to contemplate is crucial. Certainly, there are times when I prefer to work in isolation. I usually allow my work to be seen after a certain point or when it is fully complete. However, as an educator, I am used to giving demonstrations, or working alongside my students, to clarify a point or to give some guidance. Also, as there are some works that cannot be done in private due to factors such as scale or location, the artist must be flexible and confident enough to work in an open environment.
BNG: Has your experience of making art live before visitors to the gallery changed the way you approach art making in any way?
ES: This experience has not really changed the way I approach making art. I am meticulous and a planner. I consider my content, my composition, and the appropriate medium. As a teacher, I am very used to necessary prep work. My preparation for the Art Fest included ensuring that the audience would see the work not in its very early stages, but rather developed to a point at which they could visualise it as a completed work. To enable this, I put in a number of hours beforehand and tried to anticipate questions.
BNG: You chose to make your work in the Richard Saunders exhibition, why did you choose that space in particular?
ES: There is a benefit from working in a place slightly set apart from the highest traffic but more important for me was my proximity to Richard Saunders’ work. I was working in a safe, solemn environment. The space was an inspiring haven because Saunders’ life and work has provided inspiration for me for many years. It can be accurately said that Saunders was a monochromatic figurative artist who had an interest in humanity, and in particular the African diaspora. I knew that I could not pass on the opportunity. I anticipated the experience, and I was quite at home.
BNG: Was Newark Nap a response to the Saunders exhibition in any way?
ES: Newark Nap could be regarded as a response to the Saunders exhibition – but it was not an overt intention. I would say that as I have long enjoyed Saunders’ interest and photography, he may have had an influence on much of what I do – more than on just this particular work.
BNG: What were your takeaways from the experience?
ES: Already, the public is regularly encouraged to visit museums and galleries to view the completed works and perspectives of the artists. I believe that the creation of more opportunities for the audience to witness and interact with artists, particularly as art is being made, is a great idea and may foster more interest and patronage of the arts. The public needs to know and be able to speak readily about the artists in their community.