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Chris Smith’s Unspoken Language

Michigan City’s Walnut Ink Gallery drew quite the mixed crowd for their opening on June 11th, with people from Chicago, Aurora, Indiana, Dekalb, and everywhere in between in attendance. They’d all come to see new work by Chris Smith, whose current show is entitled Unspoken Language.

Julia Nielsen and Chris Grohs of Walnut Ink Gallery first met Chris while curating their inaugural show last summer. Entitled (N-ô gy r-l) Group Exhibition, it included many artists from Chicago’s Linda Warren Gallery, where Chris is the assistant director. They got to know each other while working out the logistics and consignment agreements between their galleries. Chris describes Julia Nielsen and Chris Grohs as “passionate, artistic, and down-to-earth.” The feeling is mutual. The Walnut Ink gallerists explained that they “hit it off right away” upon meeting Chris. When seeing his work for the first time they “instantly connected to [it] and the emotions it evoked,” they said.

They weren’t the only ones impressed by the work. There were 17 of Chris’s paintings featured in the opening, and many measured upwards of 50 x 60 inches. Full of color and large, dynamic shapes, the crowd couldn’t help but marvel at Chris’s large and expressive paintings. Janet Block, an artist and educator in attendance, commented, “I feel like the palette choices are very bold and some of the diagonals and…intentional lines…really pop. I think that Chris’s use of color…overlapping and transparency is really very sophisticated.”


Chris Smith. Untitled IM9, 2009. Acrylic, charcoal and oil on canvas. 60” x 50”. Walnut Ink Gallery, Michigan City, IN. (Photo Credit: Zachary Johnson)

Beyond Chris’s bold aesthetic of overlapping colors and intersecting geometric and organic shapes, lies a deeper dimension to his work. As much as his pieces are inspired by the inherent qualities of paint, they are informed by the emotional content of his life. “These paintings are visual, nonverbal stories…expressing everyday common emotions or experiences such as pain, loss, hope or joy”, Chris explains in his artist statement. As a viewer, I tend to be very curious when studying an artist’s work, especially when it’s personally expressive. Standing in front of “Untitled IM9,” I was filled with questions. A pink, amorphous shape takes up over half of the canvas, but is bound on two sides by large, dark grey rectangles. Their sharp edges impinge on the shape to the point that they nearly slice into it. “Is this painting positive or negative?” I wondered. What is it that’s closing in on and cramping the bright subject? Which forms will win out? Each of Chris’s pieces have such implied motion that it’s easy to think of them moving and changing the moment you step away. The strong geometric and organic forms add an element of contrast and, in some pieces, struggle. Altogether, they make up paintings that are both entertaining and fascinating.

When I asked Chris what it was like preparing for the show, he offered me a clue into the emotional inspiration behind his most recent pieces. “The months leading up to the opening of Unspoken Language (and time after) have been an emotional roller coaster”, He explained. “Balancing work, studio time, family and a relationship is difficult… but I’m lucky to have a good support structure.” Surrounded by friends and supporters at the opening, it looks like his hard work paid off. Chris’s numerous paintings, combined with Walnut Ink Gallery’s handsome space, created a beautiful exhibition. By the look on his face at the opening, It seems the show has left Chris full of positive emotions. I can’t wait to see the painting that they inspire.

Unspoken Language runs through July 23rd at Walnut Ink Gallery. From Chicago it can be reached from the South Shore Line’s 11th Street stop. For a good opportunity to explore Michigan City’s downtown art district, its popular First Fridays arts walk occurs next on July 1st.

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3 Responses to " Chris Smith’s Unspoken Language "

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  2. This was refreshing. I wished I could read every post, but i have to go back to work now… But I’ll be back.

  3. […] an hour. I’d been to Walnut Ink Gallery once before for the opening of a show by Chicago artist Chris Smith, and the space was just as impressive the second time. The bright, open rooms with wooden floors, […]

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