A CUP OF TEA WITH: A COMMON NAME, INSTALLATION ARTIST
I can't remember where I first stumbled upon the work of Paige Smith. But I do remember being absolutely awed by the piece: a hole in a public wall which had been filled with razor sharp, glowing gold geodes. It was innovate and edgy, yet absolutely beautiful. After I shared a screen grab of her work across my social media channels, I had an overwhelming response from people wanting to know more about this work and the artist. So I tracked down Paige Smith, the creator of the 'urban geode' series, to find out what inspired such jaw-dropping pieces and how Hip Hop producer Swizz Beats came to be a fan...
For anyone who doesn't know of you yet, can you introduce yourself, where you're from and what you do?
My name is Paige Smith, I live in Los Angeles, CA, and am a contemporary artist and street artist. I’m known for my Urban Geode street art, which are three-dimensional installations that represent geodesic formations. I place them in holes and cracks and otherwise overlooked areas of city streets.
Tell me a bit about your urban geode series... where did the inspiration come from?
My inspiration came from walking the streets and noticing all of the artworks found there. In downtown Los Angeles, it’s like a public gallery. What I really started to notice were the overlooked places—the derelict areas that were crumbling and considered ugly. I thought how wonderful it would be to fill those spaces with something beautiful, intervene and cause people to take notice. I chose crystalline shapes because I like the idea of a man made building creating them over time, a parallel to nature creating geodes and crystals over time. It feels like I am adding a piece of 'magical realism’ to the world.
I’ve also started a participatory art program (in beta testing phase) in which I send out packages of pre-made resin clusters to people all over the world. In turn they can glue them up into their own cities. I’ve had people put them up in Australia, Turkey, Jordan, S. Korea, S. Africa, and France. It’s started out great, with me actually visiting Turkey to put up installations with the woman there since it had such a wonderful response.
How do you make all the tiny pieces that make up the geode, and how long does it take?
When I started the project I was cutting, folding, and gluing each piece individually and it could sometimes take up to two weeks to create some geodes, but generally around four days. Now, I’ve figured out how to create molds of my paper folded pieces. I cast resin in the molds and will have individual and clustered pieces within minutes. I have a range of sizes and generally take a little pack out to a pre-planned spot I’ve found. This has changed my process greatly, so I can create a geode onsite very quickly.
I see that you've started to experiment with encapsulating flora to your geodes.. what else might we see in the future?
Encapsulating flora is my newest obsession! I finally found the process of creating crystal clear geodes which I started dying to create see-through colored pieces as well. I’ve only put a few on the street, but I immediately noticed what the sunlight does to them at different hours in the day. In the future look out for more controlled uses of light and definitely more encapsulation of objects and other things.
Do you produce other artwork or pieces other than the geodes, or do you plan to in the future?
I’ve been concentrating mostly on mastering geodes, but I do plan to create some different pieces in the future. Working with resin has really been inspiring, and I’ve got a giant list of ideas piling up! I’m very methodical and patient, so I’m keeping my next project a secret until I’m satisfied with the work.
I see that you've recently become involved in 'the Dean Collection', a new project from famed Hip Hop producer Swizz Beats. Can you tell me about how that collaboration came about? Were you ever a Swizz Beats fan musically?
I participated in a group show at Soze Gallery here in Los Angeles. The gallery had the idea to do a show in which artists worked on a Modernica fiberglass chair for The Art of Elysium charity. Some artists included Retna, Hueman, Cleon Peterson, Mel Kadel, and Gregory Siff. Swizz visited the gallery and decided to buy the full show to include in The Dean Collection. It happened so quickly, we’ll see what may come of it in the future! I’ve never met him and am definitely a fan of some of his productions.
You have been labelled part of a new wave of street artists. How do you feel about this, and how do you think street art has evolved since the days of Banksy?
I started doing work on the streets as an attempt to stop being precious about my work. The street was also an open canvas that worked well with my concept. I was a little wary of being called a street artist and getting pigeon holed into that group. Also, I didn’t think I’d be accepted since my work is so different - I’m not creating murals and I’m not constantly changing my concept. But I’ve found it to be a great community with so much talent in it.
Banksy still rules. The work is high concept all the time, constantly changing, and commenting publicly on social and political subjects. Street art has changed rapidly in the past decade, with people like Jeffrey Deitch recognising and bringing artists into the gallery format. I think it’s more socially acceptable to be a street artist, it’s often not very renegade, but the talent is being recognised and sanctioned by the public. That means there is a mass of artists running to the street. I literally see ‘fine artists’ running to the streets to get their name out there faster.
After all of that, I don’t mind my label, I’m proud that I was able to create a name for myself amidst so much great work! And I’m always contrary and different than most of the street artists out there, which helps me stand out.
Did you study art?
Yes, but I went to school for graphic design. Part of our studying and practice included various forms of art classes. I really found I love working with my hands and buildings physical works, ceramics in any form was my favorite at the time.
Who do you look up to?
Any designer would say Stefan Sagmeister, and I’m no different! But what I love is his multi-disciplinary approach, which is something that really inspired my stepping away from graphic design and computers. I also really admire what JR has done with his work and the participatory art program he created, Inside Out Project.
What would be your advice to anyone looking to have a successful career as an artist? Are there any lessons or learning you can share?
My personal biggest lesson was to take the leap and do the work. I spent so much time thinking about what I wanted to do and feeling apprehensive or afraid to make mistakes. I think if you really want to be an artist, you have to be willing to put in the time, all of the time.
What's your design process?
I’m a big problem solver and tinkerer. Usually my pieces are site specific, so sometimes seeing a new spot for a piece work sets me on a journey of learning how to do it. That in turn will give me ideas for new processes and works, for instance, the flora encapsulation. I also tend to have long lists of ideas, I try to write them down as they come, and they can influence and shape each other when I look back on them.
Can people buy your work, or commission you to have an installation in their home?
Yes, they can do either! I create framed pieces for walls as well as free-standing sculptures. I’ve mostly done installations commercially, but I’d love to find some secret spots in people’s homes.
What's your favourite inspirational quote?
From Sagmeister—“Seek discomfort"
Would you like to 'big up' any other artists or designers?
My fellow obsessor and lover of metallics and typography—Pia Habekost.
To see more of Paige's work, follow her on instagram.
What do you think of Paige's work? Is this something you'd love to have on the outside of your home or a local building?