PHOTOGRAPHY BY LANCE GERBER
“Despite the blurriness of the moment and the abstraction of time during the pandemic, the work in the studio continues forward,” says artist Phillip K. Smith III, who forges ahead on a series of new private commissions from his 10,000-square-foot Palm Desert studio. His team recently completed a large 30-foot-long commission Smith describes as a “floating line of sky and color” for a major collector in Pacific Palisades. Since the lockdown in March, three major projects that were approved and engineered years ago are also back in play.
In the coming months, Smith will install a sculpture on the College of the Desert campus axis near Monterey Avenue to commemorate the school’s 60th anniversary, as well as five freestanding reflective planes in the newly redesigned West Hollywood Park. He is also reconfiguring the windows across the early-1900s limestone façade of the Newark Museum of Art in New Jersey. “All three of the two-story windows will transform via slowly shifting color starting at sunset,” he explains, “allowing the museum to have a new presence in a city going through positive change.”
“Being enveloped by color is an entirely atypical experience for humanity. I highly recommend it.”
Movement, presence, and positive change encapsulate the complex, site-specific pieces Smith has shared with audiences from the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Desert X to Detroit, Nashville, Tenn., Kansas City, Mo., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and Milan, Italy. Some bathe viewers in light and color; others use angled mirrors to reflect land and sky in dramatic fashion.
“There is such potential in scale and in taking on the public realm,” Smith says. “I enjoy these opportunities to engage a larger audience, to affect their daily lives and create a lasting memory.”
Smith earned bachelor’s degrees in architecture and art from Rhode Island School of Design. “If you had talked to me then, I never could have told you I was going to be doing this,” he says. “I wasn’t entirely sure about my trajectory,” which took him from Boston architecture firms and teaching at Northeastern University before returning to the desert and pursuing art full-time.
One need only follow Smith’s Instagram feed to sense the artist’s forward-thinking nature and enthusiasm. From May 16, 2020: “Keep making, people! Seek out the art in your daily lives! Be fearless!”