Greg Parma Smith

“Regardless of whether they depict butterflies, colored pencils or figures grafted together from disparate body parts, these paintings are consistently stylized, taut, and polished. In them, Greg Parma Smith seeks a nuanced, outré effect that might be typified as ‘straight edge’ or ‘perverse straight edge’. In any event, a distinct moral undercurrent runs throughout.” states the painter and writer John Miller in Smith’s first monographic catalogue “My Ideas” (JRP-Rignier, 2018), following his solo exhibition at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain (MAMCO), Geneva, curated by Fabrice Stroun.
Parma Smith, who received his MFA from Columbia University in 2007, had solo shows at David Lewis, New York (2016 and 2014) and Galerie Francesca Pia, Zürich (2017), which Aiofe Rosenmeyer described as follows: “[…] Across the two series there is a coming together of a range of nonspecifically spiritual symbols culled from or relevant to Renaissance Christian imagery, Buddhist practice and any number of belief systems both ancient or new age – a halo here might equally be a mandala, making one great, and hollow, world religion, as it were. And this cultural synthesis is painted with infinite care, then studded with signs of cultural bankruptcy: forms that used to mean something but were put through capitalism’s shredder, emerging as empty vessels with which to decorate a phone or other accessory.” (ArtReview)
Smith’s works were presented at Greater New York, MoMA PS1 (2015) and the Kiev Biennial, The School of Kyiv, Ukraine, as well as in Looking Back: The 9th White Columns Annual (2015) and Bad Conscience curated by John Miller, Metro Pictures, New York (2014).


SAA: Would you tell us something about the artwork you will present?

GPS: Lately I’ve been working on two related groups of paintings. One series depicts specific species of bird or whale suspended against the sky or the deep ocean. A halo of cheap plastic jewels connects the central animal figure to the square format of the canvas. In the second series, the same jewels decorate seemingly cracked panels of geometric void space. The faceted, bas-relief volumes depicted are somewhere between a Giotto-style landscape and basic digital rendering but they are made by hand. 

I will show just a few paintings in an enclosed room. I want to create some calm and stillness even as the paintings straddle some contradictory territory: profane/sacred, ironic/devoted, flat/deep etc. 

This work is inspired by displacing experiences of the spirit. As I actually work, I’m motivated by the goofy complexity of representation, and testing the formal artifice and historical depth of Painting against the mixed but nonetheless singular Reality of the world.

SAA: Which worlds does your work involve, address, and how?

GPS: My interest is in aesthetics and the limits of painting, both formal and social. My painting world has touched on many subcultural codes of representation including academic realism, indie comics, and graffiti, as well as non-western painting styles that have surfaced in western art—as orientalist fantasies and formal influences on modernism.

SAA: Is there a place (in and out of Switzerland) that inspires your work?

GPS: I am always very interested in historical art museums showing the ancestral efforts of our human family, especially Zurich’s Rietberg Museum.