Interview: Fred Smilde
Fred Smilde is an artist and painter from Attleboro, Massachusetts. Before he turned to Painting, he obtained the Masters in piano performance from Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University. Smilde investigates the process and the act of painting itself, the material qualities of paint, and the emotional and experiential qualities of abstraction.
1. When you see your own paintings, what do you see?
How do I see my paintings? After I have stopped working on them, [I]... try not look that often as… [I] will always have questions, meaning I will see things that I may question - what if I do that or that etc, etc. And that line of pursuit ultimately threatens your sanity, so… [I] try not to look that much unless I decide to paint over it or work on it again. And that is after I have let it sit a bit. A more concrete answer: there is always something figurative that I latch onto and work around.
2. How do you compose the painting? From a musical background, what do you think is the essential relationship between a painting and a musical composition?
Structurally (for me) music and painting are very similar. When I attended Peabody I had a Music Theory assistant-ship, and that is what I actually taught, from Renaissance counterpoint to the language of the 20th century, how music was put together, and why it worked always made sense to me. And I am sure that has influenced how I view a painting as a whole. How do I compose a painting? [I]... do not think about it… [I]... think I just try to get an interesting and unique (different) balance. I am one who likes concrete answers, but I think much of it is intuitive. I am sure the 1000's of scores I have studied has impacted that intuition.
3. When I see your paintings, I see the movement of massive, gestural forms, which are the result of your swiping your arms on the canvas, like an action painter. The sliding, the turning, scratching, and blurring of paint must create an interesting symphony of sounds when you are working. What is the meaning of the act of painting and the process of abstraction?
Honestly, I am not a big fan of finding meanings anymore… so what is the meaning of the act of painting? Honestly… [I] do not think about it. When I was younger… [I] was different, but now… [I] really do not care to find meanings. [It] does not mean I do not value… [meaning], but as to [the]... meaning… [of painting]... [it]... really no longer enters my mind. As far as "abstraction,” people like categories… For me, it is all the same.
4. What do you think about the concept of mass (weight and presence of the subject) taught to Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff by David Bomberg? Does it apply to your work, and if so what important role does it play in your abstraction?
[I]... think I will plead intuition on this… I have never been formally trained or even read a book about painting. Of course, I am aware of the concepts mentioned in the question, but I do think about them when painting. [I]... guess for me [it is]... much simpler. Does it work? [Does it] still [need]... something? Etc, etc. The "trial and error" approach is an extraordinary amount of work. [I am]... not sure if people realize (maybe they do) how much work is involved, but it is a lot of work and time. It is not something that is easy, at least not for me.
5. It has been observed in other interviews that there are similarities between Willem de Kooning's and your works. What other artists do you think have influenced you significantly to this day?
[I] think it is very clear that DeKooning's work kind of opened the path or direction my work has taken - a path I have yet to deviate from. As far as other painters, [I]... cannot really name one that has had a similar impact. I am sure others can see bits and pieces of other painters here and there. [It is]... hard for me to say.
6. What is the significance of the human figures in your work which appear every now and then? Are you trying to give a relatable context to the abstract imagery for the audience?
[I]... think the human figure is there more for me. Honestly, I do not think of an "audience" when painting. I would never add anything that possibly an "audience" would like or dislike. They are just not on my mind. I know that may make me sound aloof or pretentious, but I am not at all. I have my feet on the ground, much more than many people. I just focus on the painting.
7. Do your works relate to your personal experiences of existing and observing in this world? In particular, do they represent the abstract emotions and perceptions that interact between your inner mind and the outside world?
the only way my paintings are personal is that I paint them- the remainder of the question is for others to decide- I am not trying to avoid the question- but do not think about that stuff- the paintings are not concrete in the sense of "yes I was thinking of that or was thinking of that"
for me sometimes, rather almost all of the time, something is lost when you find answer
8. Why do you often give no title to your work? What is the significance of untitled works?
Every painting I put for sale has a title- a sort of necessary evil. [I]... guess it helps people. For me, when I look at [a] ... painting, I could care less what it is called. [ I ]... actually never even look for a title.
9. More than anything, I observe that the diagonal forms give additional punch and power to your paintings because they slide diagonally very slowly and create a powerful movement of massive strokes. What do you think is the significance of the diagonal forms in your paintings? What other roles might they play?
[This is] .... a little hard to answer as not addressed to a specific painting, but, as a "general" rule or practice, they are there primarily for structural reasons.
10. The circular gestural forms add to the rhythmic qualities that free up the painting. What do you think is the significance of these circular gestural forms in your paintings? What other roles might they play?
Again, [this is]... a bit hard as not addressed to a specific painting ( [ I ]... can have different reasons in different paintings.) [ I ]... guess as a general practice, [they are].... structural, variety of line and motion.
11. How is the initial perception of your abstract forms and colors different from the later understandings that evolve from the initial experience? What is the importance of being there and experiencing the first time? Do these abstract experiences relate to your childhood, or are they more pertinent to the abstract experience of music?
[ I ]... have to admit the questions are bit vague. Well, let me say [that I]... have to figure out what you are after. [A]... part of the problem at least for me is that word "experience.” [It]... seems the 1st… [part]... of [this question].... is do I react to the paintings differently over time? Of course, sometimes more favorably sometimes… [not]. None of my paintings are concretely related to any experience. Are they personal? Of course, I painted them. It is inevitable that I am there. Are they related to music? Maybe in a sense that I do go after a balanced and interesting counterpoint, but I do not try to represent music in painting - definitely no.
12. If your paintings were in the form of musical notes, what kind of genre of music would they be?
[ I ]... do not think of painting in terms of music, so [this is]... a question [that]... I really cannot answer.