Michael Smit
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My works on paper always had a strong tactile aspect. Since age fifteen I have been interested in the material and non-figurative aspects of art as they seemed to allow for a greater freedom and immediacy, a more complete kind of expression, an art beyond academic skill or rational control. It made me think of the human condition as the challenge of combining something physical (our body) with a non-physical awareness or mind (we are more than our physical form). In my subsequent art work I've increasingly sought to combine many different aspects (physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual) of my 'now' in my art work, in a more or less wholistic, improvisational and intuitive process. Although these different aspects might not always have been as visually apparent. After graduating in printmaking and drawing I basically worked in this fashion, on large formats of paper against the wall. I had stopped making prints because I wanted to move more freely while working, and have my practice and the dimensions of my work relate more fully to my body. Often I worked for longer periods on this work, layering different states over each other, sometimes removing marks, sometimes adding new ones, never knowing ahead of time where or how it would end. I would describe it as a mixture of drawing (graphic marks) and painting (atmospheric use of color) on paper.

To return to the physical aspect of my work. On these larger works on paper I regularly directly worked with my hands. Water and charcoal were two of my favorite materials to mix in at times. They seemed intreaguing parts of an alchemist ritual, mixing black dead matter and the transparent flow of life. This act would typically result in a more or less ambiguous, dirty surface. I remember working on a piece on brown paper on the wall of my San Francisco studio and noticing the resemblance between the charcoal-water effect and the often dirty and besmudged cardboard signs made and held up by homeless people in my new American surroundings. San Francisco in particular had struck me because of the omnipresent homeless problem. On my way to and around my studio I would see many and I had started to recognize some and chatted occasionally with one in particular.

I started to think about the creators of these signs as artists. This now made me interested in them in a new way, beyond looking at them as obvious victims who often wanted money ("Do you have any small change?") from me which I not always could or wanted to give. Some of their signs had struck me as visually interesting... and so my first outdoor project in public space started. I had already started to think about taking my practice there. I now started conversations with some of the homeless I encountered, specifically those who had signs that I liked. I now had discovered an (artistic) value in them rather than seeing the obvious problems which allowed me to approach them on a more equal footing. In these conversations we talked about their lives and mine and I offered to buy and collect their sign off of them for the amount I still could afford and simultaneously expressed my respect which was not very much (typically about $10) but often more than most would think asking for it. A few refused to sell but we still had our value exchange. One person asked me to create him a new sign. I learned a lot about aspects of being homeless, the different individual lives involved, and the meaning attached to the different signs. And it changed my experience of the American urban environment in a positive way: I became more related to it. My idea was to make an exhibition of these signs but so far I only showed them twice, in the confinement of art studios, in San Francisco where I would add them permanently on one wall, and for one occasion at Mills College.

We the people (of California Ave)
Local Colors
How have you been an artist today?
Red States; Lens; Focus
Sidewalk Drawings
Library Exploration
I/O - a public video art program
Homeless Signs

  Homeless Signs
  Place & Dates:  
  San Francisco public streets  
  Dec. 17 2006 - Jan. 15, 2007  
  Project consisted out of:  
  First relational project created by me outside the studio. Conversations with homeless people on the streets of San Francisco about their lives and handmade signs; purchase and collection of signs (with the intent to eventually show these as art in an art setting, which has not happened)  

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