According to Merriam-Webster, Interregnum is defined as “the time during which a throne is vacant between two successive reigns or regimes.” This in-between period serves as the focus of Daniel E. Smith’s latest exhibition of the same name, on-view now at the Savannah LGBT Center. The exhibition was curated by Peter Roberts in conjunction with Location Gallery.
Smith has experienced a number of major transitions that have come to form his personal philosophy as well as the way that he makes art, perhaps none more so than going from one of ten children growing up in a cold water flat in Brooklyn, N.Y., to joining a monastery where he would serve as a monk for 23 years.
“The advantage of that life is that you don’t have to make other decisions,” he explained during our hour-long interview for this week’s episode of Art on the Air on WRUU. “You don’t have to decide when to get up or what to wear or what your meal is going to be at the end of the day, or any of those things, all of that stuff is done. So you focus on ‘what are you working on?’ It was a way of organizing your life for maximum effectiveness in a particular task.”
That sense of purpose ultimately played a role in building a successful career as an artist, and his paintings can be found in collections all over the world, including 14 of which are in the possession of Telfair Museums. But it was a piece that he made just months after leaving the church that informed “Interregnum.”
“I was still a monk in China and I was still a monk when I came back to SCAD,” he told my guest co-host Brian MacGregor and I, “And I left [the church] while I was at SCAD. I was between reigns. I was between organizations. So I did a painting about that back then.”
This was in 1999, and the painting remained a part of his personal collection. It wasn’t until a recent upheaval that he recognized its present-day significance.
“I just moved studios,” Smith recounted, “I moved my studio from Mills B. Lane Blvd to a temporary studio at Sulfur [Studios].” This meant moving all his work from one place to another, where he came upon this nearly 20-year-old piece, “I looked at this particular painting and thought ‘that’s where I am.’
This sent him down a path towards the creation of a body of work consisting of nineteen paintings in all, mostly done with a palette knife and utilizing cold wax to add depth.
“While I was in the temporary studio I started painting these paintings, which were basically about having a direction but being uprooted and chaos and organization and how all of those things cause you to be ‘between.’"
Smith recognizes that the new work is an extension of what his focus has been for the last 20 years, “My tag line for my paintings has always been ‘I paint the spaces between.’ Between what’s organized outside and chaotic inside and chaotic outside and organized inside.”
He concluded, “I like to deal with that kind of tension because that’s a real life tension that everyone has.”
“Interregnum” is currently on view at the Savannah LGBT Center at 1515 Bull Street, with an opening reception during Frist Fridays in Starland on October 4th from 5-8pm.
Listen to our entire interview with Daniel E. Smith via the link embedded here. As a bonus, our Field Note with Shelley Smith talking about the 11x11 popup exhibition happening this Saturday, October 5th from 1-6pm at 917 Louisville Road concludes the episode!
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. Next week’s guest on the show will be Sam Williams, photographer and Gallery Director at Cedar House Gallery.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show “Art on the Air.”
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.