Oshkosh painter to exhibit work

“Signifiers and Imposters,” an exhibit of work by artist Trina May Smith, will be on view Jan. 30 through March 15 in the Caestecker Gallery, C.J. Rodman Center for the Arts, on the Ripon College campus.

A talk by the artist will begin at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Rodman Center lobby. An opening reception will follow in the gallery. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and during evening performances in the Rodman Center.

Smith is a lecturer of art at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She creates poetic, melancholic paintings that reflect the decline of the American culture through its architecture and landscape.

“While growing up in Missoula, Montana, the lumber industry was part of my everyday life,” Smith says. “My grandfather was a logger and my grandmother worked for the forest service. Their experiences helped me understand the desperation and stress that is part of seasonal and industrial work while it also amplified the importance of preserving and respecting the environment. Every mill, lumberyard, and factory that was working in Missoula when I was a kid has since been shut down.

“When I see these abandoned structures in person, I am moved by the complexities of their circumstance. What was once a place of pride and identity is now a mark of change, loss and nostalgia. Alternately, the relief of environmental strain, such as pollution and manipulating the landscape, gives me hope as technology and efficiencies of the industry advance.”

Smith explores cities in Montana as well as others such as Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburg and St. Louis that have the mark of industrial decline and urban decay.

“I am continuously expanding my own relationship and understanding of these spaces,” she says. “In addition to recording visual information, I listen to the empty hollow of the interiors, breathe in the moist mildew, smell the decaying architecture, read left-behind materials, and search out locals that can give a more personal history of place. Every location possesses its own unique qualities that, in turn, have an effect on the way that I am translating ideas to the picture plane. …

“I am interested in these structures simultaneously feeling cohesive and unnatural. They are a product of my own continuous questions about the dualities of industrial circumstance: progress and failure, beauty and destruction, loss and hope.”

May received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington; and master of arts and master of fine arts degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been a lecturer of art at Ripon College and also has taught at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, UW–Madison and the Seattle Girls’ School.


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