Marjorie Williams-Smith and Aj Smith are two of Arkansas’s finest artists. Williams-Smith is known for her silverpoint flowers, small meticulous and beautiful renderings of petal, stem, the pin holding the flower in place. Aj Smith — known more for his portraits in pencil — is also drawn to silverpoint, thanks to the character of the mark. The marvelous draftsmen gave an extraordinary talk Saturday at Hearne Fine Art, which is hosting an exhibition of their work in the medium, on the technique and the artists of past and present that use it.
Silverpoint is not for the faint of heart. Preparing the paper to receive the tiny bits of silver shed by the wire tool requires multiple layers of primer — either clay-based or a calcium-carbonate gesso — which can take days. (It is easier now than in the past, Williams-Smith explained, when artists used spit and ground bone to prepare their surfaces. Prepared paper can also be purchased, for a steep price.) It is an absolutely unforgiving medium, too, because once a line is made it cannot be unmade. No mistakes allowed.
Williams-Smith’s interest in silverpoint was spurred by an exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center many years back. She made her first tool out of a ring her mother gave her (“she always supported my art,” Williams-Smith said) and has continued to make her own instruments out of silver and copper wire of various gauges and point shapes.
The Hearne exhibit, “Reflections in Silver,” which has been extended into the second week of August, features the dried roses and other flowers whose folded miniature landscapes Williams-Smith renders in the finest of lines and cross-hatching. Several of the pieces are quite dark, as if portraits of flowers at night, and quite beautiful.
Aj Smith has mastered light and dark to give volume to his portraits of African American men, women and children; he has filled whole areas of the paper with lines so subtle they create a soft and solid area of shadow.
A unique attribute of silverpoint is that the lines — like silver — slowly tarnish and change. Copperpoint lines undergo similar changes. The atmosphere literally contributes to the work, something Williams would have no other way.
Hearne, which often includes special educational events tied to its exhibitions, will host a workshop with Aj Smith in upcoming weeks. The gallery is located at 1001 Wright Ave.