This week’s cover by Dinah Maxwell Smith is a painting of a little girl in a snowsuit, titled “Snowsuit.” It could be an image of any child, any place. It just happens to be taken from a photograph of the artist when she was five years old. The work indicates that Smith works from photographs a lot. It also shows her signature style is realistic, yet it concurrently suggests Impressionism.
Whether Smith is painting animals (dogs and horses, particularly), still lifes or family members, there’s also the idea of autobiography in her work. She knows her subjects well and translates that feeling of familiarity to the viewer as well, though many times their faces are turned away from us or are in shadow. Places are similarly “masked” such as when figures walk in the ocean where vibrant colors evoke the mysterious ambience of water without identifying the beach’s location. However, we still acknowledge this setting. We have been there, no matter where it is.
Where were you in the cover image?
New York City, where we lived. My brother owns the painting.
You have a huge amount of black-and-white photographs, especially from the 1930s, that you use for source material. But you also use experience and memories. Can you give us an example?
I had a lot of 1930s wallpaper, so I did a diorama of a replica of my mother’s kitchen. I also did one of my bedroom.
Your sense of place is so important. You have lived in a lot of areas, but you were compelled to move back to Southampton.
I lived in New Mexico for two and a half years and then Connecticut for 12 months. But I had to move back to Southampton. I missed the trees and the water. Of course, I grew up in New York City.
How was that?
I loved it. I miss it. I had a studio on Spring Street and the Bowery in the early 1970s. I used to open my window, look out, and pretend I was looking at the beach.
How did landscape play a part when you lived in New Mexico?
Landscape is etched in my brain. In New Mexico, I didn’t like being a dot on the land. When I was riding my horse or driving and would look down, I felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean.
Scale is important to you and is related to what you are saying about landscape.
I had a boyfriend who was six feet, eight inches tall. I guess that was when I first thought about scale.
How about scale in other contexts?
I had a huge studio, so I felt obligated to do big paintings. But I could paint in a bedroom. Fairfield Porter painted in a bedroom, and if he could do it, so can I.
What role does the size of your work space have on how you experience your paintings?
I am farsighted; the work’s clarity becomes more focused the farther back I am. The closer I get, my work gets more abstract.
And I bet your studio is often occupied by your animals, which are also so important to you.
Yes, I have a Russian Wolfhound puppy with red on his body, an all-red poodle, a red Norfolk terrier, a red cat and his brother.
What a collection. What your future work is going to be like?
I need new material to work with. I don’t want to keep doing the same things. I want to experiment, do photo transfers to canvas.
Will you get more dogs and cats, red or otherwise?
Dinah Maxwell Smith’s work is on view through January at Ann Madonia Fine Arts and Antiques, 36 Jobs Lane, Southampton. Call 631-283-1878 for more information. See Dinah Maxwell Smith’s work at dinahmaxwellsmith.com.