Emily Mae Smith
If Giorgio de Chirico's eerie, atmospheric surrealism descended over a landscape populated by postmodern-pop design firm Memphis Group's deliciously kitsch geometric structures, the results might look quite a lot like Emily Mae Smith's paintings. All that's needed to complete the scene is a rendering of her favorite subject: an anthropomorphic, cartoon broom that, for the better part of the last decade, has become embedded in the artist's practice as a sort of metaphorically versatile muse.
Smith deliberately modeled the broom after the cursed, water-fetching antagonist from the iconic "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence in Disney's original 1940 Fantasia. It first appeared in her work in The Studio (Smoking Broom) (2014): Sporting Joan Jett-style hair, cigarette in hand, the broom casually projects the defiant air of an ex-Disney star looking to reinvent herself (indeed, she is a female broom) through punk rock.
In retrospect, even for those who started out more or less feeling secure in their adult identities, these past six years have proved a destabilizing whirlind. And, in "Kin"—on view at Simone Subal Gallery—the broom seems to have done a lot of growing up. Maybe too much. While, at first glance, she appears merely pensive, the focus of her contemplation points to a decidedly somber mood. In Head Horizon World (2020) [pictured], for instance—in which a close-up of her face fills the canvas—the reflection from her sunglasses reveals columns of smoke billowing from a factory looming over rather defenseless-looking silhouettes of wheat stalks and mice; meanwhile, her tousled blonde locks are formed out of chains of ginkgo leaves.
It so happens that mice, wheat, and ginkgo are among the longest-surviving species on Earth. But the reality of their situation warrants a grim addendum: They remain among the longest-surviving species on the planet—that is, for now.
Emily Mae Smith, Head Horizon World, 2020. Oil on linen, 67 × 90 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Simone Subal Gallery, New York. Photo: Charles Benton.