Drawings usually are not pompous enough to be called works of art. They are often too truthful. Their appreciation neglected, drawing remains the life force of the artist.
David Smith, 1955
Peter Stevens on B 5/58 16
Smith’s evolution from painter to sculptor was not simple or straightforward. Rather than “switching” focus, he extended his understanding of both of these media until they merged into one form of expression. The subject was what he referred to as his “identity.” A common thread in all his work was the centrality of drawing.
Smith’s works on paper reveal the importance that he placed on visual detail and nuance. Like the elements of one of his welded sculptures, every brush stroke carries the specificity, gravity, and surface detail of an object. The drawings bear an important relationship to Smith's careful attention to the surfaces of his sculpture, particularly that of the late painted steel and burnished stainless-steel sculpture.
In his drawings, Smith used an inventive variety of media, different types of paper, and various methods and speeds of application, to produce a great range of effects. In B 5/58 16 (the sixteenth work in a numbered series completed in May of 1958), the ink was quickly absorbed by the smooth surface of the paper, giving a subtle depth and softness to the clarity of his fast-paced gestures.
Rather than depicting a graphic, two-dimensional image, or proposing a model or illusion of space, B 5/58 16 seems to construct actual space through the accumulation of gestures. We experience the space in this drawing, as well as the weight and balance of each brush stroke, visually and corporeally, as we do in the world when confronted with actual objects.
The meaning, for Smith, was his identity, manifest through his creative act—constructing “new unities.”
Peter Stevens, Executive Director, The Estate of David Smith,
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