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Animals can be a terrific vehicle to tell something about people

Interview with Carolein Smit

Carolein Smit

DUTCH ARTIST CAROLEIN SMIT IS KNOWN FOR HER FIGURATIVE AND AT TIMES ‘MYSTERIOUS’ SCULPTURES OFTEN DEPICTING CLAY DOGS, RABBITS, RATS, AND SKELETONS. SHE PLUCKS CHARACTERS FROM MYTHOLOGY AND ITS THEMES SUCH AS GREED, POWER, POWERLESSNESS, TRANSIENCE, AND DEATH. EMOTIONS PLAY A KEY ROLE.

THREE OF SMIT’S WORKS CAN BE FOUND IN A VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM COLLECTION IN LONDON, THE LARGEST MUSEUM IN THE WORLD SPECIALISING IN DECORATIVE ART.

WE MET CAROLEIN SMIT FOR AN INTERVIEW TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HER AND HER STRONG AND INDEPENDENT SCULPTURAL WORK.

How would you describe your kind of art – it’s a very special form of expression maybe also because of the fragile material ceramics, isn’t it?

I can make anything I want with clay, there are no limits for me. Of course I have to be careful that the work is still easy to pick up because sometimes I tend to forget that and it makes things complicated if the works have to go to an exhibition and have to be handled by other people but me, therefore generally I include some particular parts in a sculpture that are less fragile and where the pieces can be lifted. The fragility of the material makes the works look vulnerable and also often makes people stare at them in awe. The hairs that make the fur of a monkey or the flowers that may complete a piece are carefully sculpted and I like them best when it looks very complicated and real. The colours of the glazes I use can complete the illusion of a work very well. The expression of the material I use lures the viewer, it is difficult to turn away. I like to use this property and try to master the technique as best as I can.

How does the process look like from the first vision or idea to the finished sculpture?

That is a difficult question to answer because it is not as if I have an idea that completely visualizes the work that I am going to make. I don’t do sketches because I don’t want to make the same work twice. I just start with a faint idea of what it will be and can be surprised at what may happen in the process. I can change a piece completely by cutting off and adding clay. During the work I can have brilliant ideas about how I should proceed and then conclude the next day that it is all rubbish and has to go. But when I am on the right track I can be very persistent in investing hours on end to do the work that needs to be done to give a piece the right shape and skin.

What is the deeper meaning of these everrecurring mythological animal forms?

Animals can be a terrific vehicle to tell something about people. That has been done in the old times in myths and fairytales and I love that. I translate these themes to our times and try to search for forms that provide an attractive image without the subject necessarily being attractive. I am trying to reveal what lies beneath our skins just as people have always done in past centuries. I am convinced that for the contemporary man the questions from earlier times are still relevant now.

You made sculptures, which also address in some way the topic of death. How do you think personally about death?

I love the classic vanitas themes. The presence and the certainty of death makes it worth to live here and now. There are many beautiful examples to be found regarding this subject. A kind of Memento Mori, remember to die. There are small heads cut out of wood or ivory that depict sometimes half a skull with a half that is still alive, or a sick looking half, the so-called Wendekopf and the small dancing skeletons, (Tödlein) that I love very much. They express a big respect for death but also an immense lust for life.

Why are the glitter and shiny elements so important to you?

When everything shines and glitters, it is adorable and the details of eyes, tongues, noses and ears are endearing. Gold and shiny elements enhance the attractability. It is also a tribute to refined arts and crafts and the material, clay, glaze and lustre, has the possibilities to imitate precious looking materials. That’s just the way I like it because I want people to love my sculptures. I want them to loose their hearts to it and I use all I can to make them do so. At the same time I want to make this loving not too easy. It’s painful, fragile, unfulfilled and sometimes downright dangerous. Where are the boundaries, where does innocence become guilt? Live become death? That is what my work is about.

How do the viewers react to your sculptures – or let’s ask vice versa: what emotions would you like to trigger in the heart of the viewer?

Not all responses to the work are directly positive because some may find the pieces very confronting, yet it is also precisely why they are often well rated because there is certainly also a factor of emotion in it and it actually leaves no one untouched.

The theme of this issue is independence. Is art independent, can it be at all or could it make us or our mind independent? What is your opinion?

I think that being familiar with art and being able to confront yourself with expressions of art is liberating and can make you change your way of looking at all kinds of other things.

Do you have something like an idol or a mentor in the field of art?

I do have artists that I like very much such as Anish Kapoor and Anthony Gormley but I don’t have a mentor.

What can we expect from Carolein Smit in the next future? Are there any new projects?

There is the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (march 2018) and the exhibition at the Grassimuseum in Leipzig, Germany. I will show several works with lots of gold at Galerie Michele Hayem.

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