Color lithograph, 14 x 18 inches
ALEXIS SMITH (American 1949-) By SAM WATTERS [edited for space]
The artist’s studio is part factory, part chapel, part Merlin’s cave, reliquary and museum. Some artists say it doesn’t matter where they make art. Others claim their studio is their art. Some cities preserve studios, but L.A. does not. We worship artists; we trade real estate. At 17, Patti Anne Smith reinvented herself as Alexis, taking the name of a fading movie star. With this new identify, Smith became a living collage, a layering of her original self and a celebrity she’d never met.
In the 1970s, as minimalism collided with conceptualism, Smith studied with Vija Celmins and Robert Irwin at UC Irvine. Recycling discarded matchbooks, clippings, menus, playing cards, license plates, movie posters, swizzle sticks and bowling balls, Smith pioneered an approach to assemblage, making collages and installations that comment on the moral lapses and flimsy psychology of American culture. Aphorisms attached to her work are by the famous and infamous, from Walt Whitman and Charlie Chan to Richard Nixon and Prince. They are cryptic, witty and poignant.
In 1972, working for architect Frank Gehry, Smith moved into a storefront loft at 1907 Lincoln Blvd. Smith became a star of a generation that includes L.A. artists Barbara Haskell, Chris Burden, Mike Kelly and Carole Caroompas. She hoarded finds from thrift stores, back alley garbage bins, roadside diners, hotels, motels and restaurants. Everything came back to the loft where she lived and worked, cooking up her meals and her art. For three decades, Smith created work for shows on both coasts, including a retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.
Smith’s answering machine’s message is:
“There are the known knowns and the known unknowns. And then there are unknown unknowns, the things that we don’t know that we don’t know. A little Donald Rumsfeld brought to you courtesy of Alexis Smith. Leave a message.”