Many of the models for Los Angeles-based artist Zak Smith’s images are women he meets in his alternative employment: as an actor in pornographic films. As in certain examples of shunga – the erotic woodblock prints made in Edo period Japan – the other protagonists are octopuses, whose many-suckered tentacles happily provide a variety of pleasurable outcomes.
The giving and receiving of pleasure isn’t simply the subject in Smith’s work, though: a kind of intensely patterned, highly decorative visual delight is intrinsic to his form, too. Influenced in part by the jewel-like surfaces of Gustav Klimt, as well as the graphic immediacy and pictorial concentration of the classic comic strip, Smith’s work holds explicit storytelling at bay, preferring instead to imply narratives of erotic abandon, loneliness and excess.
His paintings’ intricacy demands an intimate closeness of viewing, providing an unexpected frisson in the viewer. Yet Smith eschews the notion of complex underlying meaning, saying “If you keep looking up from your cheeseburger to read a plaque on a wall explaining why they made you a cheeseburger then that cheeseburger is not a good cheeseburger.”
Text by Ben Street