Momentum: an experiment in the unexpected

Thursday, October 2, 2014Sunday, February 22, 2015

Damian Smith

Grenholm (1965) by Fred Spratt

Damian Smith
Born 1973, New South Wales, Australia
Lives and works in San Francisco

Arrellah, 2014
Video and acrylic paint on unprimed canvases
Chosen artwork: Grenholm (1965) by Fred Spratt

Damian Smith’s initial reaction to Fred Spratt’s Grenholm was visceral: the painting evoked memories of the colors, landscape, and visual language of Australia, where Smith was born and raised. He immediately saw an isolated and vast desert landscape—a place of familiarity and connection that he might visit in a dream. Grenholm made him “feel lost in a familiar place.” 

Although as a ballet dancer, Smith works in a performance-based medium, he has been experimenting with ways to make the execution of movement and dance more tangible, visual, and lasting. When Smith learned of Fred Spratt’s recent death, it triggered memories of his own father’s death and his family’s Aboriginal roots. He choreographed a dance incorporating shapes and symbols from the Aboriginal language and white body paint to suggest that the dance takes place in a spiritual realm, a portal between the living and the dead, where Smith and Spratt could connect. The color red symbolizes the soil and the deep red vistas that define the Australian outback. Smith dipped his feet in paint and danced, leaving a record of his movements on canvases while also capturing the performance on video. The canvases are placed on the floor so the viewer can see them from the dancer’s perspective: the title of Smith’s intervention, Arrellah, means “the dancing ground” in the Aboriginal language.

An internationally celebrated ballet dancer, Damian Smith has appeared in some of the most beloved and well-known productions, from Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story to Giselle and Firebird. He joined the San Francisco Ballet in 1996 and has been a principal dancer since 2001.