Ken Smith Photo Journal

Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category


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simple pleasure 1

Finally something to show. This is one in a series I have as a working title, Simple Pleasure. The series title might change as I go forward with the other images in the series.

As I begin again working in the studio, I have returned to something I know, that is familiar to me. I had collected some dried specimens as autumn came down on the land last year. They have waited while I looked at them on the tabletop in the studio, not sure where they were taking me. This often happens, and an initial idea may get overruled, with some space and time.

At least I am once again moving, thinking of ideas and series. Even seeing what materials can do for me, seems alien, for I have been away from my work for so long. I approach my life now as mysteriously fresh, unknown, and adventurously strange.

Simple Pleasure 1. Pigment ink on cotton printmaking paper. 20″ x 20″ image size. Edition of 15. Other edition sizes available.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2017 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

March 30th, 2017 at 6:41 pm


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Over a year has passed, and a recovery is slowly evolving. I have a new home, studio, and some of the things I once had. Enough to begin work again.

There is a difficulty in returning to creative work, after a year and four months working on all things external. The creative work comes from the interior, and little time has been allowed for languishing there. Instead it has been about time schedules, money, people, building details, acquiring lost possessions from the insurance list….an entirely different discipline. What Chinese Buddhist monks call ‘living in the world of red dust.’

So I now attempt to swim my way out of that red dust before it swallows me up. I have my new and beautiful space for living, and also a dedicated workspace and darkroom. I have some tools and materials. The difficulty, as it usually is, is the interior. The getting back to somewhere lost over time where one was comfortable and happy to reside. I am looking for that inner space and it eludes me. I roam about my space, arranging things, but cannot find my vision. I must simply begin…a blank piece of paper, a piece of charcoal, or peering at an old film negative. Print something on the new printer that has yet to be plugged in. Begin, with a kind of fear of the unfamiliar. The transformation that took me away I have to now take to the present. There is no going back; the past is history. I am new, everything around me is new, and yet I look for something I once was, to help me take the next step.

Written by Ken Smith

December 20th, 2016 at 2:44 pm

Posted in News,Philosophy

fire storm

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After living in my idyllic natural landscape for many years, making art in its presence, my home and studio and their surroundings were destroyed in the August wildfires. I barely escaped with a few belongings hastily thrown into my vehicle. Luckily, the first things saved were my film negatives and digital master files, so I may start once again.

One more curve in the constantly moving stream – this time made of fire. If one removes oneself from the moment, it can seem like a grand new adventure, and in most respects that is what it is. A time to look at oneself, belongings, priorities, from a cleansed perspective. I try to see it that way, for one cannot go back. Something good must come from this renaissance. All is not lost, but is simply transformed. Brutally, history evaporated…but now what happens? I feel less a participant, and more an observer.

Late one evening, standing quietly among the ashes, the trees of carbon, the gray…I suddenly heard a chattering and saw a red squirrel running headfirst down a charcoaled tree trunk. ‘You made it!’ I may have shouted. Then I heard a chipmunk chirping away behind me. A white breasted nuthatch, came to land, hanging sideways over the dish of water I had put out. There still was life in the dead zone. Hope. Maybe even art in time.

Written by Ken Smith

October 2nd, 2015 at 6:54 pm


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evidence 1 & 2 (diptych)

This Sunday, August 2, from 5-7pm, Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop, Washington will be having a reception in its gallery for four artists, myself included. I am showing eight framed works, a combination of landscapes and still lifes. Not limited to a theme or any particular boundaries, I chose some of my most interesting works.

Evidence 1 & 2 is a diptych that I made years ago but it has always been close to my heart. I told Laura, one of the curators, that in the 24 years I’ve been doing art full-time, Evidence most clearly expresses what I wish my art to be. I find it the most succinct and beautiful of anything I’ve ever done. I’ve felt that before in a new piece, but after a time it fades. Evidence has always been at the pinnacle in my mind’s eye. Strange, to be aware of that, and I continue to look at it and wonder what it has that stuns me.

I remember finding the emaciated branches, down by the stock tank, one early spring day. They had been a plant of some kind, dried and buried in snow all winter, leaves gone, and then, just a line drawing was left. The branches coming off the grey stem were just like tiny strips of paper, but they also were like messages, or musical notes. Each one twisted and reaching a different way, beautiful. I took them back to my studio and went to work. The two stems were only about a foot high each, and I put them in a vase, and they sat on the windowsill for years after. Until, breezes thru the window, time and dry air, they slowly came apart. Looking at the artwork that is left, I love the simplicity, the symmetry and asymmetry, and what they tell me about time. There is something else that intrigues me, but it cannot be put into words – only be shown in a piece of art…instantly recognized but indescribable like a profound mystery.

Evidence 1 & 2, diptych. Pigment ink on cotton printmaking paper. 29″ x 15-1/4″ each. Framed 36″ x 18″ (each).

image copyright © Ken Smith 2015 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

July 31st, 2015 at 8:26 pm


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Wound 1

Wound 2

Wound 3

It may be impossible to reverse engineer the thoughts and feelings that come about while creating. But for this one, it suddenly came before me, or more accurately, behind my eyes on that slate that passes continuously in the mind. It was there, and it intrigued me. It kept returning, as I thought up materials and methods so that I might replicate what I saw in my imagination.

Why this particular image imprinted on my imagination is another conundrum, and one attempts to unravel it. I had stitched closed a gash in my elbow once with button thread and a curved needle. I also had been going through the usual psychological wounds of living life, especially significant at times, though one attempts to brush those very real energies aside. Or maybe it was that I had only recently had my left knee replaced, and soon would have the right knee joint also replaced – all in the space of six months. The scar on my left knee was a river pattern. Maybe those impressions could shine a light on why this image metaphored into my mind? Whatever, wherever it came from, I ‘owned’ it now, and I could choose to bring it to a tangible shape.

I wanted to work with aluminum for its malliability and shine. For a while, I was going to simply paint the ‘flesh’ beneath red on some material, but finally chose peened and raised copper. I found the same curved needle I had used to suture my earlier wound. I learned the proper suturing knot. Then began the tests, the failures, the melding of expectations with what materials and reality finally allows to move into form. All mounted on wood panel. A viewer at the gallery show purchased it the first day it was hung on the wall…a validation of sorts. Of feelings that may be universally felt; of images that symbolize…something to me, and maybe also to someone else.

Wound. Aluminum, copper, mixed media on panel. 24″ x 12″.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2015 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

June 20th, 2015 at 9:01 pm


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Leave-behind 1 (left) and 2 (right), is a diptych made for a group show at Confluence Gallery in Twisp, Washington. The show title is: The Big Sleep. The curators asked artists to discuss with their various mediums their thoughts about things that come to an end, what we call Death. The show, that is scheduled during the Halloween season, ironically also comes after much of the area around the valley where the gallery is located, was devastated by the largest wildfire in Washington State history. The curators did not know of this when they began organizing the show in April. Much of the Summer the valley suffered with loss of homes and property, power outages, and the physical and psychological affects of Loss. The show is bound to reflect those feelings and runs from September 27 – November 8, with the opening reception on Saturday, September 27 from 4 to 8pm.

Each artist was asked to write a one page statement about each of the works. My particular piece comes about from finding a stack of wilted flowers that laid in a trash heap thru one winter, after being discarded by a friend. Using the abandoned flora as metaphor, my work looks at the idea that objects, people, places have spirits that go on long after the physicalness changes form. The work suggests, as does Japanese Shinto belief, that spirit lives in all things, and may continue as long as there is admiration, love, and remembrance. In that context, death or the end of things, is not as finite as one might think. Though these inanimate flowers were forgotten and left behind by one person, my discovery and retained admiration for them, in a sense, brought the spirit within them back to life.

The timely show and its poignant theme promises to bring a lot of good artwork to the gallery, and I hope if you are in the area, you will visit. Many of the artists will be attending the opening reception and the discussion will flow.

Leave-behind 1 & 2. Pigment ink print on cotton printmaking paper, mixed media. 22″ x 16″ image size, framed 28″ x 22″ – each piece.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2014 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

September 26th, 2014 at 11:54 am

the sketch

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Prairie Smoke

The Prairie Smoke is a wildflower that appears every year in my area. I love their wispy ways. I have worked with them many times before. This time, I have chosen them against a black background, tall and narrow. I have seven images so far, and am wondering now, if I have a new series taking shape?

At this point in the creative process, it is difficult to know if the supposed series is real or brief playfulness. A flirting with my love for this shape, and the fragile emotions that appear, may be as fickle as a brief time in a season. I mistrust my ability to edit my feelings for the work. A series is a commitment, each image needing to flow, cohesive and of equal quality. More of a book, than a single haiku. So, I think of each image as a sketch. Title-less. I work with them as individuals, and let them stand alone for a time and distant, till I can look at them with the cold eye of a stranger. Then, maybe they will seem to work, to fit together. And I will say they are then a series, and find a name for them, and begin the process of turning sketches into finished work.

Prairie Smoke (working title).

copyright © Ken Smith 2014 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

June 13th, 2014 at 2:35 pm


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reverie 1

As often happens in my creative process, the feeling and the work produced occurs prior to making a title. There are working titles…this series included Flower1, Flower2, etc., just to get the work to a place it may be referred to. I first want to get the work made, and then live with it for a time to know if I even want to keep it. I continued to work on the images in this series, that number 14 so far.

Titles, and especially those for a series, are difficult because they can seem like they are a ‘conclusion’. There was a time when I wanted to not use titles on my work at all…just Untitled 1, Untitled 2, followed by the year created. But galleries did not like the ambiguity, and truthfully I wasn’t sure about that path either. What I was afraid of in making a title that encouraged or suggested ‘feeling’ was that the title could convert the visual art experience, into a literary one. Meaning, with enough words, one could explain what the viewer ‘should feel’, instead of the work taking that role. The title, if wrong, can send the viewer to another place entirely. The title summarizes and puts into a word, what one is essentially saying is wordless – the visual art. So no wonder there is trepidation in deciding on a title, and I know other artists deal with the same quandary.

I would love to have each and every viewer ‘get’ what I am trying to express in my work, but it does not seem correct to suggest an aesthetic place the viewer should go to after reading the label below the artwork. Is it ‘impure’ to use words in a visual art piece at all? A good question, I say to myself.

But over time, I’ve come around to accepting that the title of the work, is descriptive of the state of mind I was in when I thought about the work in progress, or what I felt when I first saw the completed work. Sometimes I still title work clinically, such as, Standing Nude, or Winter Aspens. But when I have a series in mind, and images have a continuity of style coming from the beginning, I am hard pressed to simply call them Flower 1, Flower 2…

So, when I came to a pause in making this latest series, I struggled to find words that would surpass my uncertainties about titles, not be trite, or plain. One that could live up to what I hoped the finished work would aspire to. I wrote down lots of titles, but none survived my scrutiny. Finally, I asked a friend who knows me well, even to knowing my struggles during the last year with personal loss. For all that had come about in my life, was sure to be there in the work. He knew my state of being, and he had seen some of the images I had made so far. I also explained my difficulties with titles, though I know he has heard it before. I described as I might in an artist statement, what I was putting into the work, what I was feeling about this series. I told him some of my ideas and that the words were either cliches, or had the wrong poetics. Such is the dilemna, in what might seem to be a simple part of making the work.

The next day, he sent me an email with a word that was perfect. He had the distance, and yet the familiarity with my work and me, to give me the ideal title. The new series, reverie, lower-case with airy syllables that breeze off the lips, and a meaning that says it all. “Diffuse and dreamy character; a dreamlike state of mind.” The title suggests where I am in my work, in this time in my life, without divulging too much. I can leave it up to the viewers to each find their own feelings and personal connections when they encounter the visual work that waits in front of them.

reverie 1. Pigment ink print on cotton printmaking paper. 26″ x 20″.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2014 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

February 17th, 2014 at 10:45 pm

cyano- and other types

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aspen row

During the winter last, I began collecting materials and information to begin making cyanotypes. But one crucial element in the process was the necessity for full sunlight. The paper coated with chemicals is exposed to the UV light from the sun, thru a negative that is laid on top, a piece of glass over it all.

When the sun was finally reliable in May, I began my experiments. First, I had to learn to make enlarged negatives, printing them out on transparency film on my inkjet printer. Then, I needed to learn how to coat the paper; various papers for some would not coat properly, or reacted to the chemicals. Then, I needed to experiment with how much time to expose the sandwich of negative and coated paper, glass, to the sun.

It can be a frustrating process to master, and I am still a student. But the process is gratifying in that it is totally hands-on. A chance to ‘put into’ the work one’s self. I look at it that way, when I am making what I hope crosses into the level of art. Not only must the work be well crafted so there is no distraction, but it must express what some have called an ‘otherness’. It transcends the ordinary and exudes a heart. Sounds metaphysical, but isn’t that what is expected of art? Is not art supposed to transcend everyday life, so that we come away with questions, new experiences, insights? I believe it is so. Starting work in a new medium such as cyanotype, causes not only a journey into new materials, techniques, and processes; but it is also a waundering into the reasons one works in any medium at all – the purposes of making art.

So I practice making cyanotypes, and toning them in tea or coffee, or other types of tannic acid. These toners change the original blue color of the cyanotype into slightly maroon brown, or various shades of brown or grey that are difficult to reproduce from one print to the next. This alternative process is fickle and filled with ambiguity. There is science involved, but it is not exact science. Learning to go with that is part of the process I enjoy practicing.

I am just beginning to exhibit my cyanotypes. I am also renewing my familiarity with my darkroom. Seasons pass. The sun is used for some processes, and the darkness for others. Inkjet for printing on interesting papers. I am having fun with all of it.

Aspen Row. Cyanotype toned in tannic acid. 6″ x 9″ image on Weston’s Diploma Parchment paper.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2013 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

August 13th, 2013 at 9:34 pm

time and value

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winter hill

There are several AT&T tv ads currently playing that grabbed my attention. They show an adult male in a suit, sitting at what looks like a kindergarten classroom table, with four elementary school age children.

He asks, “What is better, Bigger or Smaller?” Simply that. The children all scream, “Bigger!!” That is the real message of the ad, which we find out at the last is about the biggest 4G network the company has.

There are other ads. “What is better, Faster or Slower?” Of course we know the childrens’ answers.

And finally, in the same setting, the question becomes, “What is better doing two things at once, or just one thing at once?” The more the better….

I wonder the message being sent, not to those shopping for a fast phone, but to children sitting in front of a tv. And to us adults, who like me have been grabbed by the initial humor, but also question the values expressed? What do these values mean to all of us in our daily lives? What does it mean to me as an artist?

Last autumn I began shooting film again. Black & white film loaded in old cameras, and newer cameras. All medium format 120 size film. I got out the handheld light meter, the tripod, and it felt great. In the late afternoon, I once again was in the darkroom souping film in chemicals measured in beakers. A thermometer is now very important. It was heaven, and simple. I was doing one thing carefully at once. The medium required I slow down to develop my 12 shots made that day.

I am still scanning my negs and printing with a black & white inkset, and I haven’t given up my digital cameras, but now I feel more connected to this new work. It is curious what real hands-on involvement in each image can do to the art psyche. My darkroom still has the ancient Beseler 23c enlarger sitting, waiting for my attention, and it may be rewarded soon. I have stacks of badly outdated printing paper, long obsolete, that want to show me about time and most likely fog. But they might teach me something new along the path.

Digital or film, one is not better than the other, but very different. My rediscovery of film, I know isn’t a unique ephiphany, or an earth-shattering renaissance that will change the world, but for my world it is revealing. It reminds me of the value of meditative work, where film is expensive and limited, not throwaway pixels where the goal feels more important than the journey. The tools of the process bring me back down to earth, instead of me creeping in the ether of an lcd screen. I agitate the film to the cadence of the timer, and dry my hands on a clean towel. Simply that, while I await the mystery that is on the film inside the tank. There is the gamble, the sacrifice, the possibility of something good to come, and I enjoy that suspense.

It is sort of shameful that children cannot hear a message by the big corporations that it is ok to slow down, to be spare, to be contemplative instead of the revered multitasking. Unfortunately, I expect there will be no turning back.

Unless…they pick up an old argus off ebay, buy some film from Europe or Asia, and take a deep breath.

“What is better, a Tweet or a Haiku?” I know the answer to that one.

(Image info: A recent winter day in the woods. Made with a 1950s Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash with the lens reversed, on Kodak Tri-X 120 film.)

image copyright © Ken Smith 2013 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

January 23rd, 2013 at 2:11 pm

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