Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Bayou Scene

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Bayou Scene, 1920

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (1876-1958) was an American painter from South Carolina.  Growing up in Charleston after the Reconstruction, Smith was very influenced by the immense change happening around her.  Hearing firsthand accounts, such as those of her father, of Charleston during slavery, when the city was affluent, Smith keenly felt the cultural decline that was taking and had taken place throughout the South.  Indeed, some of her works show an uncomfortable degree of nostalgia for the Antebellum South.  However, Smith's better pieces are undoubtedly her landscapes.  These pieces present an illusory vision of the land and nature.  Working almost entirely in watercolor, Smith creates soft and hazy scenes that become dreamlike renditions of the places they depict.  Bayou Scene is a powerful example of Smith's style.  With bright, blazing colors, and viscerally ominous shapes, the painting becomes emblematic of the mystery and intensity of the bayou.  The shapes almost look like they're melting in the wet heat.  The scene recedes into shadow, leaving the viewer to question what lies beyond the reaches of the light. The orange light, green trees, and purple water dance together, their colors blending and curving. The scene is one of uncertainty, changeability, and transience.  As soon as one of those birds flies away, the movement will ripple throughout the scene and the space and colors will change.

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