Critics’ Response

“The careful buildup of her painting surfaces is indicative of the respect she has for her subject…If spirit and its potential to move us is to be harnessed, it has to be given an enclosure worthy of it and this is what Smith has effected.” –William Zimmer, critic for The New York Times, 2002

“Tremain Smith employs sharply defined, geometric forms in multiple color patterns that our eyes translate into space and depth beyond our control. Smith works on six pieces at a time, each the product of intense concentration on deliberate forms and demarcations. It’s hard edged but with a vitality that seems to breathe. Through premeditation and deliberation, she seeks to unite our visual, aesthetic reaction to the integral whole that comprises the universe. It’s simultaneously beautiful and acutely perceptive, and consequently remarkable.”
Anne R. Fabbri, Broad Street Review, September 2012

“Tremain Smith’s works are really not so much encaustic paintings as large collages held together by translucent wax.  Using a fractured grid, she constructs an endlessly shifting and subtle terrain of color and surface – soft and etherial from a distance, rugged and physical up close.  Her use of close-value color contrasts within a highly complex structure pulls us into her improvisational space where the entire painting process becomes visible…We see a deep committment to abstract painting as a language of ritualized creation, a mysterious embodiment of experience and spirit.”  –Steven Alexander, Pamela Farrell and Tremain Smith at Ruth Morpeth, Steven Alexander Blog, April 19, 2009.

“The mixed media paintings of …Tremain Smith all use complex, layering techniques that reveal the intense engagement of these artists with the art-making process, evoking both transformation and contemplation. The glowing light and shimmering, grid-like patterns of Smith’s paintings, in oil, wax and collage, are like palimpsests, suggesting multiple meanings that can only be intuited.”  –Ursula Ehrhardt, The Daily Times, February 2008

“In the rear of the gallery are two stunning encaustic oil collages by Tremain Smith that emanate that very sense of awe, making the most of the warm texture of this revivified technique of painting with beeswax. Smith’s grids derive more from Piet Mondrian than from Agnes Martin and… show the well has not run dry for abstraction.”  –Peter Occhiogrosso, Hudson River Museum & Gallery Guide, Fall 2006

“Tremain Smith stick(s) to a system to break through to the other side…Smith’s glow emerges through layers of encaustic restricted by a grid that suggests doorways, walls and floor plans.”  –Libby Rosof, artblog, May 2006

“With stroke, color, materials and ideas about the sublime, Tremain Smith builds up irregular, sumptuous grids…Human vulnerability (bruising, blood) plays off against the flow of nature and some aspect of the divine in this work of spiritual questing.”  –Roberta Fallon, Beauty, Order and Individuality, catalogue essay for exhibition Order(ed), May 2006

“Tremain Smith eschews the round forms that usually inhabit her work for a more rectangular impetus that alludes to a skyline of the soul. The contrast between her designs is tight and well focused, and it is almost as if she traveled to many cities to render her work.  The palette is also somewhat different from her past art, as it is less autumnal and more precise, in that the season has given way to a specific time of day, that being when the sun begins to drop from the sky.”  –R.B. Strauss, University City Review, May 2006

“Tremain Smith is a Philadelphia artist in her mid 40s who sees abstract painting an avenue toward “inner mysteries.” Her paintings at the Melanee Cooper Gallery show her working to create abstractions in which the hard logic of geometry is softened through colors and collaged forms perceived through layers of wax.

She paints on panels, at some times allowing the wood simply to assert its grain while at others covering it with oil paint and, ultimately, buckled and pooled wax. Incisions and collaged elements further complicate Tremain’s arrangements of rectangles and, when taken together with washes of color, drips and stains, the surfaces appear much more luxuriant than severe.

The five pieces on view have a chromatic sweetness that gives itself all at once, whereas the geometrics and layers of painting operate in more protracted time frames. The multiple rates at which elements of each painting reveal themselves to the viewer are, in fact, essential to maintaining interest, as the syntax of all the pieces is familiar from early modern painting.

The motley nature of Smith’s paintings keeps them from achieving the rarefied atmosphere of works by the artist who she says has most inspired her, Agnes Martin. Certainly, there is no single way toward spirituality, though. Because Smith’s is in color and surface so seductive, it appears more tied to the earth than a world of inner purity.”  -Alan Atner, Chicago Tribune, April 2006

“Tremain Smith’s gritty wax-sealed abstractions, brimming with striations and stratifications, pretty much efface all but the merest, most tantalizing traces of any sort of imagery or mark-making. Rather, passages of oil paint stew in their own juices, prevented from boiling over only by a strict Mondrianesque organization of elements.”  -Peter Frank, LA Weekly, October 2005

“Tremain Smith concerns herself with surface, as she has challenged herself to work with encaustic or wax mixed with her pigments and collage on panels. In addition to surface, we are confronted with scale in her work. She nicely balances color and light in her compositions. The paintings are comforting in that they induce a sense of nostalgia in viewers for what is past. There are no specific references, and it is almost the subliminal comfort of a barn door, a porch floor, or an old textile.

The only narrative aspect of these paintings is what we invent as the experience of the artist producing the work we are viewing. The surface is visceral in a way that has us thinking about what the surface might be, however, not really knowing. It is as if the past is indistinct, and so our recollection of the colors or textures is suspended. We do not need to touch the work. It is enough that we acknowledge that the materials have witnessed a process that brought them to what we see. It is the comfort we have in looking at what is old and worn. The event has passed. The blood has dried. The skin has shriveled. Experience conceals and hides many things. These works do that. ”  -Mark Ormond, Pelican Press, June 2005

“Tremain Smith’s beeswax paintings were perhaps the most labor-intensive of the bunch. They are also some of the most complex visually. Their thick, semi-transparent gloss permits views above, below and through the surface onto patterns, some of them circular, scratched on earth-colored backgrounds. Like Calder, Smith wants to (and does) convey an almost spiritual transcendence, something far beyond the obvious.”  –Zachary Lewis, The Patriot News, July 2004

“Tremain Smith’s work is multiple thin layers of wax built up to a rich glowing intensity…The richly worked surface of textures and colors reflect an earthy, sensual topography.”

“The subtly pigmented layers achieve a glowing inner richness.”  –Ellen Slupe, Art Matters, February 2003 & September 2003

“As a master of the ancient process known as encaustic painting, Smith imbues her work with a mysterious quality that pulls in the eye and surprises it… Smith’s art comes alive with nostalgia and curiosity under the milky textured layers.”  –Susan Lindt, Intelligencer Journal, September 2002

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