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REFUGE - LENARD SMITH

REFUGE - LENARD SMITH

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Perched amid thirty-three acres of redwoods, two miles inland from the remote Mendocino Coast in Northern California, Salmon Creek Farm is a place like few others. Originally established as a countercultural commune in the early 1970s, today it exists as a kind of communal, longterm, living art project – a queered commune, farm, and homestead, open to artists and others curious to its potentials.

On June 4, 2020 – in the week following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer – Salmon Creek Farm’s current custodian, the architect and artist Fritz Haeg, posted a callout to social media offering one of the farm’s cabins as a sanctuary for BIPOC artists, with no expectations, expenses or obligations. 

The photographs that arose from Los Angeles-based artist Lenard Smith’s time on the land the following month – the same images that populate Refuge, Smith’s second book for Perimeter Editions – sway with a kind of gentle, arcane atmosphere unique to their setting. Lush, dense greenery fills several frames, bracketing quietly monumental renderings of Salmon Creek Farm’s timber cabins and other peripheral structures. Elsewhere, Smith’s affinity for low-key surrealism and the still life play out in arrangements of books, tools, keepsakes, and objects gathered from the land. Gestures toward histories of the African diaspora and Black resilience intersect with spirituality and nature. A self-portrait titled Runaway Slave sees Smith in monochrome, a bindle on his shoulder as he traipses through tangles of undergrowth. Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots and Angela Davis’s seminal 1971 treatise If They Come in the Morning each appear in still life, echoing both the pain of the moment and the history that preceded it.  

But even with such bearings and signposts, Smith’s images prove open, dialogic, and free – they are unlikely conversationalists. In a prescriptive sense, this book is about neither Salmon Creek Farm nor the socio-cultural context, but it is little without them. Refuge is about an artist being given the space to live freely, to think, and make, and play. It is about safety, and the richness of introspection, solemnity, reflection, and creativity that it affords – a richness that so many of us take for granted.

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