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Explore a Selection of Keith Smith’s Work

Book Number 82, Keith Smith at Home, 1982

Artist’s book with gelatin silver prints, colored ink washes, pen and ink, and decorative paper borders
Smith describes this as “a book of moods.” Through the sequence of deceptively straightforward photographs— taken primarily in and around the artist’s home—Smith shows how rooms can be storytellers and repositories of emotions, ideas, and memories. Some spaces and vignettes repeat, but the artist colored each iteration differently and moved or replaced their framed pictures and bric-a-brac with others. Are we seeing the passage of time or carefully arranged altars to a particular person or moment in time?

​Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York

Self-Portrait, November 1969, by Keith Smith

Self-Portrait, November 26, 1969

Electrostatic print (photocopy [3-M Color-in-Color]) with red ballpoint pen and hand stitching
Smith delighted in making self-portraits by pressing his face onto the surface of a Color-in-Color copier, yielding pictures with distorted facial features, light flares, and deep shadows. Whether by accident or design, a green line bisects his face in this example, isolating his left ear. A recurring motif in his work, the ear may symbolize the artist’s felt connection to Vincent van Gogh.

​Courtesy of the artist

Book Number 141

Book Number 141, May 1989

Artist’s book with cut gelatin silver print, colored ink and watercolor washes, graphite, and machine stitching; folded, snake format
This is one of Smith’s one-picture books, made from a photomural print of his friend Philip Lange’s torso. Smith hand-colored the print, then cut and folded it in a snake format, a bookbinding technique devised by the artist’s partner, Scott McCarney. As the pages unfold—back and forth, row by row—from a concise, square stack, they eventually form the meter-square image shown here.

​Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2015-51-1

Aeros Alpha and Aatis, October 4, 1981, by Keith Smith

Aeros Alpha and Aatis, October 4, 1981

Gelatin silver print with colored ink washes and decorative paper border
Smith’s family, friends, and lovers appear again and again in his work. These portraits are not mere documentary records, and they do not always reference a particular moment or memory. Rather, they clarify the close bond between artist and subject. They make visible the full range of emotions—love, longing, nostalgia, confusion, joy—in intimate relationships. This print depicts his teacher and lifelong friend Aatis Lillstrom with his children Aeros Keith and Alpha, who are Smith’s godchildren.

​Courtesy of the artist

Book Number 11, Up , 1969

Artist’s book with ballpoint pen, graphite, and porous point (felt tip) pen on graph paper; film-positives; and collaged and cut gelatin silver prints
Consisting primarily of self-portraits drawn from dreams, this book features imagery on transparent and opaque pages. As the transparent pages are turned, the underlying imagery from adjacent pages remains visible. In the two spreads shown in this slide show, rainbow zigzags, snakes, and a blank face interact with an image of a bearded man in profile on a transparency. The snakes are perhaps a nod to the mythical snake-haired Medusa, a motif that recurs throughout the book.

​Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York

Watch: Book Number 91, a string book, 1982

Artist’s book with cutouts, punched holes, and string
This string book grapples with key elements of Smith’s work: movement and pacing. As the pages are turned, strings pull against the paper, growing taut and then slack as they weave through complicated configurations until they finally give way to an arrangement of punched holes. The “image” Smith presents includes the shadows cast as the pages turn. Though it contains no photographs, he considers this a photographic book since it deals with light, shadow, focus, motif, and sequence.

​Artwork courtesy of the artist and Philip Zimmermann. Video produced by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2018