Matt Smith: A Trouble With History @ Ink_d Gallery

Matt Smith uses Brighton, its gay community and his own experiences as a major influence in his work. He has managed to capture the essence of this community: the fun, humour, sassiness and finally the sexuality of this wonderful city and community by creating piece after piece that subtly reference these emotions but without sacrificing aesthetic or alienating anyone.

For example, in one piece he has managed to create what is, for all intents and purposes, a cumbucket. But a tasteful, elegant and thought-provoking cumbucket, words not usually spoken together I know.

But this is what Matt Smith does.

Smith is the featured artist at the new solo exhibition at Ink_d gallery and, despite my promise that I wouldn’t feature them so soon after the last review, seeing his work rather forced my hand.

His work is split between his work with reinvigorating old tapestries and his stunning ceramic pieces.

Originally, his textiles are bought cheaply or found tapestries, which is then deconstructed. This could be removing whole sections of the pieces and replacing it with a pattern or colour he likes or, as in other cases, could be about transferring a certain element from one place to another. For example, in one of his triptych pieces (in the photos) he has painstakingly unthreaded the deer from the piece on the right, before carefully filling in this section in purple. It is then transferred to the other two pieces which dramatically transforms the scenes from the regal to the surreal.

This playfulness and joyful irreverence is something found throughout his work. In his ceramic pieces it almost has a sort of Grayson Perry honesty about it, though more concise than Perry’s work. His piece “It wasn’t what we wanted for him” is a very clear, humorous and straightforward message and reference to drag queens and gay culture.  

Not all of his work is as easy to decode and can very easily be dismissed as just playing, but there is lots of thought and consideration.

Smith’s awareness of the history of ceramics has lead him to some curious conclusions. “New Model Army” is a comical and pleasing reference to Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army, a great wonder if there ever was one. Finally, “Leda as the Swan” is a reference to Greek mythology when Zeus, in the guise of a swan, rapes Leda only for her to bear his children as a result. Though instead of being violent it seems to fit the gay aesthetic of the room, the only hint to the violence and sadness of the piece being that the swan head is facing down to the ground.

Transferring these references to almost a level of “pop reference” is a very satisfying conclusion. It demystifies these objects and removes any sense of pretension. If you’re unaware of these references they are simply relatively entertaining and desirable pieces, but when you scratch the surface of the meaning there is a lot to read into it.

It comes as no surprise that he is due to be starting a residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum soon, and look forward to seeing the work that he will create. I loved this exhibition and the challenge of decoding it, and I would suggest taking the time to explore it yourself as well.