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Art People: Jerry Smith's visions of urban excess

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Jerry Smith does junkyards. "Not landfills," he says, "but working junkyards--cranes dropping big chunks of metal, planes flying overhead, a real loud and violent atmosphere. I'm intrigued by this part of the urban environment."

A weirdly cartoonish couple make love fervently in a heap of crumpled beer cans, old tires, a television set with a smashed-in screen. The oil colors are deep, stormy. "See how the stuff is mashed up against each other? I wanted a kind of erotic painting, but I wanted the figures to relate to the junkyard. So the figures are mashed up against each other in the same way that all these beer cans and car parts are."

A group of people party wantonly atop a mountain of banged-up rusting cars. "The guy dancing on top of the car, he's based on a figure from Gericault. The contorted woman, I had to get kind of twisted up to paint her, had to know what that pose feels like to paint it. The guy in back--when I go to a party that's how I tend to dance."

It's all about excesses in the way we live, Smith says. What we treasure, what we trash. Excesses and irony. "Not a profound narrative or moralistic statement but an obvious irony," he says. "People partying in a junkyard--it isn't an environment people normally have a good time in. They're just dealing with their environment."

Excesses and irony and jazz-inspired delirium. "Drinkers, dancers, revelers--I have a fascination with the Bacchanalian. Listening to early jazz, there's a certain point of delirium they reach when five or six musicians are improvising at once, all these disparate elements coming together. It probably sounds like chaos to some people, but it all comes together, this beautiful sound."

A massive ball of trash levitates spookily above a dark city's rooftops in one of Smith's most recent works. "This is the stillest painting I've done," he says. "I haven't exhausted my interest in the urban scene."

Jerry Smith's first one-man show will open April 26 at Carl Hammer Gallery/River West, 415 N. Sangamon. For information call 421-3600 or 266-8512.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.

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