DS 1958

Artist: David Smith (American, Decatur, Indiana 1906–1965 Bennington, Vermont)

Date: 1958

Medium: Spray and stencilled enamel on paper

Dimensions: 17 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. (44.5 x 29.2 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Gift of Candida and Rebecca Smith, 1994

Accession Number: 1994.399

Rights and Reproduction: Art © Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY


Although it is unanimously agreed that Abstract Expressionism was the province of painters, one sculptor-David Smith-stands out as an important exception. Initially trained as a painter in New York City in the late 1920s to early '30s, he continued to paint and associate with painters (including Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Jackson Pollock) even after he turned to sculpture in 1931. Like these painters, Smith espoused the role of spontaneity in the creative process, and viewed his mature creations (abstract welded metal sculptures) as representations of energy rather than mass.

Starting in the late 1950s, and continuing until his death in 1965, Smith produced a unique series of preparatory studies for his sculptures that no longer relied on traditional drawing methods or tools. Instead of applying brush and ink to paper, he sprayed enamel paint over cutout pieces of cardboard or metal that had been arranged into a sculptural form on a sheet of paper. When the cutouts were removed, the unpainted paper color was revealed, silhouetted against a halo of spray paint. DS 1958 is one of the first studies of this type to be made and displays Smith's experimentation with different media. Here, he sprays metallic paint over the enamel for a shimmering painterly effect; subsequent spray drawings used only matte paint. The totemic structure of this proposed sculpture, made up of a few geometric elements along a vertical axis, coincided with what he was doing in his monumental steel sculptures. The artist's title includes his initials (DS) in Greek letters.