Abstract Expressionist sculptor and painter David Smith worked as a riveter and welder at automotive factories before devoting himself to art. Interested in the painterly potential of sculpture, he built his works by welding together found objects, machine parts, and forged metal. His style evolved from early Surrealist and Expressionist tendencies (influenced by Pablo Picasso, Russian Constructivism, Piet Mondrian, and Alberto Giacometti’s biomorphic forms) to late masterpieces of geometric abstraction. His last work, Cubi XXVII (1965), part of a series of towering stainless steel sculptures meant to be installed outdoors, broke the auction price record for postwar art at Sotheby’s in 2005.
David Smith was a revolutionary sculptor, operating in America from the early 1930s, At the time most sculptors used a bronze foundry, a marble quarry or a conventional studio and by so doing Smith fundamentally recast the artist’s role and persona. When he left the space in 1940 it was to a rural environment, essential to his evolution as an artist and partly responsible – as much as environment can be – to the size and imagery of his new work.
Many of Smith’s sculptures made after 1954 bear inscriptions such as ‘Hi Rebecca’ or ‘Hi Candida’, which he said would stand as perpetual greetings to his two daughters, in the future, when his legacy found its eventual place in museums. But at the time they were made, there was neither a market for these works nor any willing collectors with appropriate settings to house them.
Smith pioneered the technique of welding in America to make art.