E.E. Smith’s still life oil prints center on games and comment on the current economic and political climate. In a recent visit to the Netherlands, she revisited and was inspired by the 17th century Dutch still life painting she saw there. In these images, Smith invokes the memento mori, a genre that asks the viewer to heed the brevity of life. With a nod to the contemporary penchant for amusement over mindfulness, her work, on the one hand, tells us that games offer a distraction from reality, while on the other, makes references to the very issues these distractions would mask.
In Lotto, Smith mounts forty-five vivid images in a grid formation, suggestive of the popular Mexican Lotería and lottery learning games for children. The images, of small objects found around the house, common things encountered in everyday life, are silhouetted, cut off from any contextual setting. Man-made objects (along with a few natural ones) are presented in luminous black-and white, while fruit and flowers glow with intense color, an allusion to slot machine symbols. Like the cards in the Latin game, this assortment of alluring objects seems full of symbolism and emotion, giving them a timeless quality of a Tarot card.
In the series, Twenty Questions, Smith invokes the 19th century parlor game which reduces everything in the world to three categories from the Linnaean taxonomy of the natural world: animal, vegetable and mineral. Players may only ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” thus further simplifying the complexity of the known world. Smith choice of subjects resonates with present-day concerns: Animal (Baby Beef) brings to mind problems of sustainable agriculture and the locovore movement; Mineral (Manhattan Bridge) reminds us of the systemic, crumbling infrastructure that plagues our country; and Vegetable (Tree) draws attention to global warming and environmental issues.
A series of more traditional still life prints incorporate games directly. Smith gives us playing cards, dominoes, and three English walnuts (literally a shell game), overt references to gaming and gambling. These luscious, richly colored oil prints, a medium Smith has been working in for over two decades, are both lyrical and sinister, and hark back to a long visual history of depicting the role chance plays in our lives.