The light-based installation works of the artist Phillip K Smith III might typically be fleeting, temporary creations that are set against exceptional nature backdrops, but five of Smith’s most arresting outdoor works are now newly immortalised in a fresh tome called Five Installations, published by the Laguna Art Museum.
Opening with Smith’s breakthrough creation, Lucid Stead (2013) – which saw the artist transform an original Joshua Tree homestead shack into a dynamic mirrored structure that reflected and distorted images of the surrounding desert landscape and sky – the book is filled with detailed photographs that highlight and expand upon Smith’s unique creative approach.
‘This was my first time using the environment as a surface,’ recounts the artist, who has based his studio in Palm Desert since 2000 (see his insider guide to Palm Springs here). ‘[The structure] became a tool for viewing and experiencing the desert.’
02: 1/4 Mile Arc, 2016, by Phillip K Smith III
For Smith, who was born in Los Angeles and pursued both fine art and architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, the vibrant, changing quality of light and the natural landscape – both so unique to the Palm Springs and Death Valley areas – are what he seeks to convey in each of his large-scale works.
In 1/4 Mile Arc, a striking installation Smith created for the Laguna Art Museum in 2016, a gentle arc of reflector planes traces the contour of the beach, reconfiguring and recollaging scenes of the oceanfront surroundings with a new, captivating result. ‘I wanted to create a quarter-mile-long reflective drawing that would change as the environment of Laguna changed,’ says Smith.
While the book also shines a spotlight on Smith’s smaller-scale sculptures, such as a continuing series of mirror works and light works that experiments with the perceptions of reflection, shadow and colour in compact and self-sufficient forms, it is ultimately Smith’s outdoor installations that hold no comparison.
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Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.
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