"A Pythagorean Traveler, An Exhibition by Patti Smith," Dec. 1, 2006-Jan. 13, 2007, at Robert Miller Gallery, 524 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y 10001
How the artist, by a prescribed series of exercises, can proportionately increase his originality.
For three decades, Patti Smith has entranced and provoked the world with her intimate artistic vision. After 9/11 she began an extensive drawing series responding to the destruction of the Twin Towers. She also began making photographs with an old-school Polaroid Land Camera. The photographs were then transformed to silver gelatin prints. These recent images from her extensive travels possess an old fashioned and eloquent purity.
Smith has always been an artist generous in her admiration and celebration of other artists. Beginning with an early literary fascination with Arthur Rimbaud, she has paid musical, visual and poetic homage to Baudelaire, Mayakovsky, Yoko Ono, William Burroughs and other visionary artists. Two photographs, The Poet John Keat’s Bed, London and Percy B.Shelly, Grave, Rome make beautiful use of natural light and the camera’s inherent black-and-white grainy texture. The Polaroid is the camera of choice for aura photography, especially when searching for the elusive Indigo aura. The reflection hovering near Shelly’s grave creates an otherworldly miasma, which is viewed more romantically as a spirit rather then a blur when the film misses the paper. The sacred Pantheon, Rome presents a dreamy, unposed quality that could have been captured by an intrepid Victorian traveler.
Other images include a detail of a Neo-Classical painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, German stone cherubs and an equine statue from Spain. The intriguing angle of Winged Horse, The Palace of Music, Barcelona presents an awkward and peculiar charm.
A signature piece is the Travelers Cloth with Pope Benedict XV Slippers. The cloth is a religious Pilgrims relic, and the embellished slippers once worn by the early-20th-century Italian "Pope of Peace" are now owned by Smith. A Buddhist calm pervades the simple still-life.
The exhibition presents 24 small (10 x 8 in.) photographs, eight larger photos and an installation work. The last features a kind Indian-style bed covered by a white cloth -- a vintage silk textile which she traveled with and inscribed with her poetry in a scribbled, gestural calligraphy -- as well as several drawings on the wall and, resting on the floor by the bed, a round basket meant for souvenirs and offerings from visitors.
Like the plain-speak of fellow New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams, Smith’s photos capture unadorned images imbued with remarkable perception. As likely to be at the Bowery Poetry Club, modeling at a recent Parisian fashion show, or addressing London’s Blake Society, Smith’s creativity continues to shift and break boundaries.
With these photographic jewels, Smith continues a path to extend her own inspiration.
ILKA SCOBIE is a poet.