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Breck smith


I have gone through many different stylistic evolutions in my career as an artist.  Starting out painting mainly still lifes, interiors, and landscapes, I gradually began working in the more abstract Neo-expressionist style in the 1980s after graduate school.   I would return to these subjects frequently, sometimes painting in a more abstract fashion; at other times more representationally.  I did not really feel free to break out of painting from life until I went to a month long residency in 2007 at Vermont Studio Center.  There I was able to interact with other artists, including visiting artists who came into my studio and talked to me about my work.  Through this process I received advice and encouragement and learned techniques that allowed me to work successfully in a totally abstract style for the first time.  One of the visiting artists who came to my studio told me about a technique that we think the seventeenth century Japanese haiku poet, Basho, may have used for writing his poetry.  He would sit in front of his paper until he felt the space between himself and the paper had disappeared.  At that point, he would pick up his brush and begin writing.  This is a very spontaneous way of working, and when I paint this way, I allow my hand and the paint-loaded brush to go pretty much wherever it wants to go.  It is also a relatively rapid process (less than a day).  After painting in this way for a few years and producing what I call my “haiku” series of works, I returned to working in a more representational way, and have enjoyed feeling free to work in both ways since.

When I do work from life, I typically try to choose a subject I see every day.  Instead of a sunset or a bouquet of flowers, which are beautiful in their own right, I look instead for an interesting composition or light or combination of colors.  When I work in an abstract fashion nowadays, the work proceeds by a combination of spontaneity and considered intuitive responses.  By that I mean that making a painting or a drawing is like having a dialogue with the artwork.  First, I make a mark or a color that is usually spontaneous.  Then, I have to look at the piece a while off and on, sometimes for a few seconds or minutes, but sometimes for a few days or longer.  Eventually, the work will suggest what is needed next, and the conversation proceeds from there. 

Abstract art has contributed to a sense of distance between artists and the general public.  I think the separation between the artist and this audience is unnecessary.  In particular, I want to get rid of the feeling that you need to be an expert to appreciate art.  When you view my work, before you read the description of it, I want you to stop and see what you think of it, what it makes you feel.  Don’t look with expectations, fear, or judgement.  Only curiosity.  (And by the way, I often see new things in my work when I look at it over time, or when other people tell me what they see.)  

I'd love to hear what you think of any piece you purchased or any piece you especially respond to.  Please feel free to contact me at

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