Robert Smithson

Blake meets Bosch in Smithson's early drawings exploring the pictorial possibilities of language.

Robert Smithson had a special interest in language, and at the start of his career he created a group of drawings that explore its pictorial possibilities, including the two works exhibited here, Untitled (Moth) and Untitled (Encyclo), from 1962. These drawings combine nude and mythological figures with rows of apparently random words, numbers and phrases. They correspond to Smithson's recollection of "phantasmagorical drawings of cosmological worlds somewhere between Blake and ... oh, a kind of Boschian imagery".

Smithson's development of words as compositional elements on the page reflects his interest in William Blake and the idea of the painter-poet, but also offers a parallel with the way in which language is treated in concrete poetry. Smithson's idea of the radical properties of words–once freed from the usual systems by which they are contained, and including the idea of words as architectonic material or as ritualistic incantation–would be developed in a text entitled 'LANGUAGE to be LOOKED at and/or THINGS to be READ', from 1967.

Robert Smithson was born in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1938. He had wide-ranging interests that took in science, natural history, anthropology and science fiction, and his complex ideas were manifested in a variety of ways. He is best known as a pioneer of the Earthworks movement, and for his association with Minimalism, but as well as being an environmental artist and sculptor he was also a filmmaker and writer. Smithson died in a plane crash in 1973, at the age of thirty-five.

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