Martin Smith

I grew up in the bayside suburbs of Brisbane, Australia with a speech impediment. My teenage years were spent watching and observing, as I was too embarrassed to speak. My inability to express myself during this time left an indelible mark on my personal history and has provided the impetus for my artistic enquiries. Therefore it is no surprise that my art practice is primarily about language and the modes of representation used to express and interpret personal experience. 

Among the studio methodologies that I employ are the combination of traditional story telling writing with vernacular photography. The text and the images have no literal relationship and I am very careful to avoid any obvious connection between the two. I write personal stories then hand-cut the text out of the image. The removed letters from the image are collected and captured by the picture frame, sitting at the bottom of each image like fallen leaves creating an Autumnal scene where visible change has occurred and the picture and the figure are going through a transition. The text punctures the surface of the image disrupting the way we view and read the work. We can’t fully view the image because of the text and we can’t read the text without the image creating a constant back and forth between the two. When viewing the visual and textual oscillation between the two narrative devices that have no literal connection we find balance outside the picture frame in a new discursive space. It is through this collision of narrative and languages that unique interpretations of personal experience are built. I am interested in exploring spaces of meaning that are created when two or more narrative devices are blended. 

In other works the letters are also glued directly onto the wall of the gallery to form recognizable but featureless figures. These installations explore how meaning and identity are generated through language. The individual letters (the building blocks of language) combine together to form a representation of a life that exists only through the formulation of language. 

Recently I performed a stand-up ‘comedy’ routine as another vehicle for exploring story-telling and personal histories. The routine titled “Hello Newmarket Hotel” was performed at an ‘open mic’ night in front of a regular comedy audience. The aim was to recreate and recontextualize a particularly painful childhood memory while incorporating known ‘comedy’ tropes. This work along with my whole practice is interested in the role that photography, and other forms of narrative, plays in the construction of our identity and how personal histories are written and interpreted.

Martin's works have been exhibited internationally at the Hong Kong Art Fair, Photo Paris, Hous Projects in New York and Photo LA. In Australia he has exhibited at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.

His work is held in the collections of the Queensland Art Gallery, Monash City Gallery, the Museum of Old and New Art, University of Queensland Art Museum, Artbank and private collections in Australia, Hong Kong, France and the United States. He has been awarded the Veolia Prize, the Clayton Utz Travelling Scholarship and the Prometheus Award. In 2008 he released a monograph titled, Martin Smith, photographs, In response to...

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