Legato :: Tammy Smith
legato :: In a manner that is smooth and connected
by Jenny Doh
Very rough sketches are what Tammy starts with, as she imagines how to approach her wire creations. From there she moves on to start working with wire to see if what she has sketched is even possible. And when it does become possible, it becomes achingly magnificent, as we the viewers wonder to ourselves: "How is that possible?"
JD :: You say you began making your birdcage and wire pieces when you realized that you love the look of abandoned circuses and carnivals. Tell me what sort of passion such abandoned scenes unleash in you. How come they have been so powerful for you?
TS :: Well I was a very impressionable kid and I saw a scary movie when I was 5 that really changed my life. My parents had forbidden me to see it, so I snuck into the living room and watched it from behind the couch. For years after, I couldn't sleep very well and would make barricades of my stuffed animals and toys to protect me. It didn't take much to scare me, so when we would pass by the abandoned amusement park near my house after that, I would imagine myself riding on the rusty old roller coaster with the trees growing through it. We also lived near an decripit estate that was purportedly haunted and my older brother delighted in taking me there and telling me ghost stories. So I guess I grew up with a fear and fascination of lonely, abandoned places. I forgot about most of this but when my family went to Brighton, England a couple of years ago, I saw the lovely old carnival on the West Pier that had burned to it's shell 30 years before. It just brought back that feeling of life having passed a place by and the tattered vestiges (like the ticket booth still standing) made it seem even more lonely.
JD :: What is it about wire that makes it your medium of choice?
TS :: I wanted something that was fragile but strong and pliable. The wire also reminded me of the charred steel of the West Pier carnival. Add to that the fact that I had never worked with wire before and I love exploring new mediums.
TS :: Working with wire gets your hands very dirty! That's one thing I didn't realize until I started using it. I use wire snips and wire-that's it.
TS :: Part of it is that the ideas I started to come up with around the carnival/circus theme needed to be made of clay. I couldn't really make a trapeze artist from wire. Maybe it's just the natural progression that an artist makes. I mean I can see myself making many more lamps from wire, but if I want to convey something with a person in it, it needs to be clay or paint in my mind.
TS :: I don't fire these pieces. They are made of a clay that actually could be fired but it can also be air-dried and is pretty durable. You can sand and carve into it after it dries.
TS :: Yes definitely! And when I started ideating and researching, I realized that the themes that were important to me in my life:balance, strength, courage—were also all aspects of circus or carnival performers.
JD :: Tell me about your background. Did you study art? Where did you grow up? Was your family an artistic one that encouraged you to find an artistic path?
TS :: My favorite show was my first gallery show. I had been laid off from my corporate job earlier that year so the posters I made for the show resembled old circus posters and I called it a "Debt Defying Act of Courage" or something like that. I made references to having no visible means of support, much like a trapeze artist. I even hired a fire eater to stand outside the gallery and conjur up a crowd. We made a trade--his performance art for a piece of my art. He was a great guy.
JD :: You live in Kansas. Have you lived there all your life? Tell us about life in Kansas.
TS :: Yes I have lived here all my life except for a short stint of living in the French Quarter in New Orleans. I love alot of places I've visited but this is a very easy place to live. You can live inexpensively but well. I love the arts community here. We're so lucky in that we have strong support from many of the local companies and people. Some people say that KC is a bit sleepy and I guess it is but then that means that traffic jams are not a part of your day, and that if you want to get tickets to that concert you'll probably get in. We're large enough though that we do get some wonderful museum exhibits and shows.
TS :: The funnest thing I have ever done was swing dancing. I used to do East Coast swing, and get flipped over people's heads and backs. It was a blast! You were totally in the moment when doing it, especially when you had a good dance partner.
JD :: Tell me about something fun that you can't wait to learn to do in the future.
TS :: I'm working on a show with a small group of artists around the theme of burlesque. I am so looking forward to the show, because a burlesque troupe is going to perform at it and it's with a group of artists whom I really enjoy. Each of the artists works in a different medium so we've got an oil painter, a jewelry artist, a photographer, and a seamstress. I plan on doing some wax encaustic pieces--another new medium so I'm very excited.
TS :: Having a child and trusting that everything would be okay even if I wasn't in control.