The Hanging: Nicola Smith, ‘A Whole Night’
May 10th 2017
One summer night in Brussels, Belgium – in a still, almost wordless world – a series of lovers and strangers come together and apart. No, this is not a summary of your most recent romantic fantasy – it’s the story of Toute Une Nuit, Chantal Akerman’s 1983 film, and the inspiration for artist Nicola Smith’s current exhibition ‘A Whole Night’.
The intense trysts and moody tableaux of Toute Une Nuit are captured in Smith’s oil paints and brushstrokes, exploring the process of painting and its long-held affinity with cinema. Chantal Akerman may not be a familiar name unless you’re a fan of feminist or avant-garde filmmaking, but even if this depiction of three romantic encounters is your only introduction to her work, you’ll immediately get a sense of her skill in capturing intimacy and emotional complexity.
It can be hard enough getting a handle on our own emotions – let alone effectively depicting some else’s – but Nicola’s paintings represent them beautifully. From the woman in a red coat staring anxiously out of the frame, to a small shift in a characters gaze, to a phone call ending in a lovers’ embrace.
Yet Nicola’s paintings afford us something that cinema can’t: a luxurious, self-indulging slowness of viewing. In this transferal of cinema time to gallery time, we can spy subtle omissions and changes from painting to painting, from the clean beige walls in one canvas, scrubbed with washed out brown brushstrokes in the next, to the basic outline of tables and chairs filled in and made wooden in another.
These small changes draw our attention the process of painting, from the canvas grooves coming through the paint, to the way paint can depict, replicate and imbue new meaning. Like all films and particularly foreign films there is always a process of translation, and in ‘A Whole Night’, Nicola Smith’s paintings are not exact copies of Akerman’s mis en scene, but have a unique charm that make them her own.