Author Archives: dorothy smith

Made and Considered by Denis Byrne

Catalogue foreword by Architect Denis Byrne, solo exhibition Made and Considered, darc space, 26 Nth Gt Georges St, Dublin 1, 20 May – 17 June 2016

Procession, pencil on paper, 76 x 56cm
Procession, pencil on paper, 76 x 56cm

‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.’  Philip Larkin ‘I remember, I remember’

For an understanding of the city – a construct that we consider to be the supreme work of art – we must necessarily be aware of the many invisible forces – political, social, cultural, legislative, etc – that caused it to be and continue to shape it into what we actually see. Dorothy Smith is an artist who works back from this ‘what we actually see’ in order to ask questions of and about the forces active in city creation. Her work interrogates and critiques the city while also delighting in the sudden beauty of an objet (or scène) trouvé. These moments of intensity, or urban epiphanies, are captured – generally separated from context – by her unsentimental eye and rendered with superb technique. These are matter-of-fact images that knowingly dance between the dichotomies of local/global, memorable/forgettable, ordinary/extraordinary – images that thoroughly celebrate inherent urban ambiguities.

One is reminded of the broader cultural context within which the work resides – from the Situationists (Debord, etc.) with ideas of the spectacle and dérive, or urban drift, to the Psychogeographers (Sinclair, Self), profound proponents of place and locale, to the painters and photographers of the mosaic that is the modern city (Georges Shaw and Grosz, Eugène Atget, Bernd and Hilla Becher, among many others) – and furthermore, is struck by how well it holds its own in this company.

This is the work of surfacing urban moments, of focussing on the things in cities that we don’t see because we see them everywhere or we see them every day. This focus and subsequent representation prompts a ‘seeing for the very first time’ reaction that causes a visual re-evaluation about the objects that surround us; some of which are temporary and functional (Arrangement), others of which are temporary but abandoned (Made and Considered), others again are permanent but about to undergo change (Underpinning), while others still are permanent but fragmentary (Procession). All of these urban conditions, and more, exist within the small area of Dublin’s north inner city that is the focus of Smith’s intense scrutiny. We are all indebted to her for collecting so assiduously, and we can say almost scientifically, this evidence of the wealth of local urban taxonomy.

darc space was set up in the dark days of 2009 as a forum for discourse on the built (and unbuilt) environment. We set it up in part of our office – we are mainly architects – initially with a focus on architecture (drawings, models, talks, etc). This later expanded to include exhibitions and events concerned with the related arts of painting, photography, etching, movies, even, on occasion, fashion; but always centred within the evolving constellation of environmental issues.

We are happy that Dorothy Smith is exhibiting her work here at darc space – ‘placing it in an architectural context’, as she told us. This art has many things to say in many contexts and we hope that it will have additional resonance and reach from within these walls.

Denis Byrne, darc space gallery, 26 North Great Georges Street, Dublin 1, May 2016

On the Persistence of the Analogue Ethnographer by Ailbhe Murphy

We learn a place and how to visualize spatial relationships, as children, on foot and with imagination. Place and the scale of space must be measured against our bodies and their capabilities.

Gary Snyder “Blue Mountains Constantly Walking”, in The Practice of the Wild, 1990

Drawing can be a meditative act. It requires concentration and attention to detail in the careful act of looking. We tend to think of it as a solitary process. Yet the recent series of drawing projects by Kathy Herbert and Dorothy Smith working individually at Phizzfest (2013 and 2014) and collaboratively at Satellite Studios and the Draíocht Arts Centre, suggest something different.1 These projects point to an opening out of the drawing process. They represent a deliberate move beyond solitary studio practice in order to bring the act of drawing out into the public domain, into the everyday rhythms of the street and into the neighbourhood. Most recently, with Walking/Drawing, Herbert and Smith have brought their public and collaborative drawing explorations to the somewhat unlikely terrain of the urban shopping centre complex. Vagabond Reviews caught up with Dorothy and Kathy at the Blanchardstown Town Centre in the north west of Dublin during an intensive, five-day summer residency at the Draoícht Arts Centre. In the main gallery, the artists were developing an eight metre collaborative drawing.

Drawing as Urban Psychogeography

We began our conversation by discussing their individual practices and interests. Dorothy has a keen interest in the built environment and the public spaces, which we all navigate in our daily lives. Various disparate elements come together in her work: streets, walls, surfaces. She is interested in drawing as a form of psychogeography, exploring how the built environment acts as a limiting, formative or enabling force in our lives. In her work she brings drawing and that critical encounter with the built environment together. The work of English painter George Shaw, who has been painting the same housing estate in North England for the last twenty years, is an interesting reference point for her. Shaw’s work echoes her sustained engagement with the physical infrastructure of everyday urban life. Smith draws attention to certain features in the urban landscape, such as signage, anonymous street corners and most recently traffic islands. These are features which we navigate on a daily basis, yet to which we wouldn’t necessarily ascribe a strong aesthetic value. However, in Smith’s drawings, they are isolated from the bustle of the surrounding city life and being expertly rendered on paper they invite (and gain) our respectful attention. For

weareallinthistogether, Smith, Phizzfest, 2012 & 2013. Drawing Conversations, Herbert, Phizzfest, 2012 & 2013. Open to the Public, Smith & Herbert, Satellite Studios, 2013. Walking/Drawing, Smith & Herbert, Draíocht, 2014.page1image1000151728

Smith it’s not about a preoccupation with the exotic: more like a tenacious attention to working where you live, a highly local exploration of place.


Fig. 1 Island with Cable Ties, pencil on paper, 56 x 38cms. Dorothy Smith 2014

I had an exhibition recently featuring drawings of traffic islands. I think I might be the first person to do drawings of traffic islands. That really ordinary infrastructure is essential yet we hardly notice it. I think they’re fabulous subject matter.

Kathy Herbert’s work is also concerned with questions of environment, coming from what she would term an ‘ecosophical point of view’. Herbert connects these large themes to the everyday in her work. Just as with Dorothy’s work, Kathy draws our attention to the ‘small’ and seemingly less significant things that surround us: the shadow a tree casts, line markings in the sand, the wild flower growing through a crack in concrete, she draws our attention to the opportunistic in nature. Although she has always drawn, her influences are rooted in sculpture. As a sculptor, drawing is a way to understand and figure out three – dimensional forms:

In sculpture it’s always a question of figuring out the form. It’s about dissecting the idea, the image in order to understand the dimensions, the thing itself. It’s a question of looking, drawing, learning how something is structured, how it’s put together. Drawing is not like taking a photograph, where you press the button and see it that one time. In drawing you have to look and look again. It’s about actively looking. You glean the information. You record. You realise what’s missing and yougo back. Putting all those little pieces together you build up this body of knowledge about what it is you are drawing.


Fig. 2. Copper Beech Tuam, pencil on paper, 42 x 59cms. Kathy Herbert 2011



Both artists work in gallery and non-gallery settings and each communicate a strong impulse to connect those practices of visual investigation and presence as artists to broader publics beyond those art spaces alone. They discovered this shared interest when they first met in the 2012 Phizzfest, the Phibsborough Community and Arts Festival. Although working on separate projects they discovered common interests around drawing and public engagement. For Smith, drawing in public is a way of breaking the isolation of the studio:

Working more publicly is a two-way thing. It’s really very isolating being an artist, you have an exhibition, which is great but there’s very little engagement really. I was increasingly frustrated with that model.

Coming from a background of intensive drawing and life drawing in particular, Smith has discovered a productive tension between drawing and engaging. With the weareallinthistogether project at Phizzfest she experimented with rapid-fire portrait drawing, each sitting lasting no more than five to ten minutes, layering one drawing over another. While it demanded extreme concentration it was also energising. It was memorable too for the shift from studio into the flow of a social situation:

I loved the buzz, the people hanging around. A choir came in one day and sang for a while. People asked questions. It was so full of life with all sorts of conversations going on. People love looking at people drawing. It sounds like it’s a passive role, but I don’t think it is: sitting for a portrait is not a passive role

Figs. 3 & 4 weareallinthistogether, work in progress Phizzfest, Dorothy Smith 2012



For Herbert, Drawing Conversations (Phizzfest, 2012 and 2013) brought the act of drawing, both its making and reception, out into the street. The device was simple. She set up an easel with paper and pencil and while drawing, invited members of the public to come over, look and talk about what she’s working on. She observes that for a lot of people, to be able to regard the construction of these works on paper offers a valid form of engagement with art, an opportunistic encounter in the everyday, which is made possible by drawing in public.

Fig. 5 Drawing Conversations, Phizzfest, Kathy Herbert 2013

Walking/Drawing at Draíocht

Herbert does not see herself in some kind of service role. Rather it’s about creating another register, somewhere between the art class and the formal gallery setting where afterall, the artist is not usually present. She describes the distinction in the context of the Walking/Drawing project at Draíocht:

For a lot of people who are interested in art but not professional artists, the main point of contact is through workshops and art classes. They’re always learning how to make art. But there are also an awful lot of people who just want to look at art: for them it’s a non-making engagement. They come into the gallery space here at Draíocht and look. But they’ll also enjoy it very much when we talk to them to tell them about the drawing. They ask about the drawing. I’ll tell them, for example the dandelion in this large drawing we are working on can be seen anywhere in the shopping centre, coming up through every crack. People respond and talk about dandelions in their gardens. The drawing creates a platform for conversation and shared experiences.

For both artists, walking is an essential part of their practice. It formed an integral aspect of making their collaborative drawing at the Draíocht Arts Centre. Both Smith and Herbert feel that walking allows the walker to really see a place, to discern as much information as possible about a territory. In Blanchardstown Town Centre certain areas naturally assumed prominence such as where people park their cars or where they go to the bank. But for Smith and Herbert, entirely



different spaces opened up through their individual walks. Both artists would consider walking as a form of knowing:

I set off yesterday on foot, thinking about how we are affected by being in certain places. I made notes about how I felt on my walk. If you wander off the set routes here, it’s quite uncomfortable. I was on edges, on multi-directional crossings, going through fences and hedges. Desire lines and the paths here sometimes just simply stop. So I didn’t feel wanted or welcome as a pedestrian. It made me feel stupid, clumsy, nervous. I felt frustrated but autonomous because I was really determined. I was glad to be fit in order to be able to negotiate the space. Smith

During an earlier six-month studio residency in Draíocht Herbert went walkabout, working in her notebook as a record of those journeys. Building on that experience both artists walked and sketched separately as an initial research process ahead of their residency together in the Draíocht gallery.

We didn’t follow pre described routes. We crossed car parks diagonally. We wanted to see where we would end up, if we walked without purpose. We ended up in all sorts of strange places. Smith

Herbert adds:

We both went on our separate walks around the car parksIf you go walking in a different direction than what has been intended for you, you see things differently. Like the back of the bike sign, so in the drawing the bicycle is upside down. It’s about going the other way to what was intended, looking for nature in the man made spaces: ferns growing in the shore, the cloud behind the lamp posts, the names of shops seen through leaves, wild flowers, rosebay and dandelions not intended to grow here. The environment was not designed for everything that happens in it. We did our own thinking, our own drawings and came together in Dorothy’s studio about a week before we came to work here.

Figs 6 & 7 Walking / Drawing details, pencil on paper. Kathy Herbert & Dorothy Smith 2014



Accidental Ethnography

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both artists started out with that perception of the Blanchardstown Town Centre as a world dominated by cars and shopping. When the centre was built 15 years ago at the height of the Celtic Tiger, it did seem like an alien territory, offering little more than the exhaustion of cars and shops. Although Herbert already had a good working knowledge of the area from her previous residency in Draíocht, Smith was less familiar. While she had participated in National Drawing Day in Draíocht the year before, the shopping centre was unknown territory.

The artists have inhabited the place through constant walking, talking to people in the gallery and encounters with people who work there. In the course of those Walking/Drawing perambulations at Draíocht they have discovered many humanising transgressions and accommodations that work against the grain of the ‘big planning’ imagination. Counter intuitively the private car owner is not necessarily the main user. In their conversational encounters they have discovered that most people come to Blanchardstown Town Centre by foot. The main mode of circulation is walking and the many desire lines that cut through the shrubbery are testament to that transgressive pedestrian traffic:

Although it’s not designed for walking, people walk here. If you want to go somewhere in particular in this town centre, you may not find a path, so you have to go through bushes. There are millions of desire lines here, cutting across spaces that the designer didn’t intend for people to move through. Herbert


Fig. 8 Walking / Drawing detail, pencil on paper. Kathy Herbert & Dorothy Smith 2014


There’s a particular taxi rank at the main entrance to the centre that will bring anyone anywhere in the neighbourhood of Dublin 15 for just five euros. Herbert notes: ‘People are making a living just from that taxi rank alone’. From their line of sight in the gallery the artists are surprised to see that the taxi drivers already know many people by name and the destinations of many of the shoppers who get into the taxi. It’s a form of both economic and social exchange. A small-scale social economy breaking the assumption of the hermetically closed circuit between suburb, private car and shopping mall.

Collaborative Drawing

The collaborative drawing process began in Dorothy’s studio on a table tennis table. There they worked directly on the eight metre roll of paper, a small section at a time where rather poetically, each territorial transgression demanded a return of serve.page8image1043043280

Fig. 8 Walking / Drawing in progress, Dorothy Smith’s studio 2014

When they transposed the drawing to the gallery space in Draíocht, they could see it in its entirety for the first time. They immediately reassessed what was an overly tentative emerging composition in the studio in light of the scale of the drawing in the gallery space. While in their way of working Smith and Herbert do not propose an absolute divide between studio-based practice and ‘making in public’, there are certain crucial differences. The studio offers a space that can be occupied completely. It holds out the possibility of complete concentration and singular focus. For their week long residency in the gallery at Draíocht the doors


were wide open. As people walk past the artists actively engage with them, inviting them into the space, encouraging dialogue about the drawing process. In that public setting there is a deliberate syncopation between drawing and conversational engagement. In their approach the more visible, public phase of working is supported by the studio practice. As Herbert puts it:

In the studio, the focus is entirely on what you are doing. The focus here in the gallery space is actually on communicating about what you are doing.

While Smith and Herbert have retained the direct relation between drawing and the artist, in the public, gallery-based setting there is a switch from that intense process of drawing on paper to the performative demands of engaging with the public. Through drawing collaboratively, they have experimented with breaking down the lines of separation that maintain physical spaces on paper as personal space. It took time to break that boundary, to become comfortable with the drawings of each artist straying into the others frame.


Fig. 9 Walking / Drawing detail, pencil on paper. Kathy Herbert & Dorothy Smith 2014


Fig. 10 Walking / Drawing detail, pencil on paper. Kathy Herbert & Dorothy Smith 2014

Dorothy would join up some of her pieces to mine. I had to make spaces for them. At first we were veering away from each other. Dorothy’s work is much more intricate. Mine is looser so I cover more ground, more paper. I have no problem with the idea of somebody working over my drawing whereas Dorothy is more reticent about that. Herbert

Smith adds her own musings on these territorial invasions:

It’s taken a bit of negotiation. You can’t just follow your own ideas all the time. We had to push ourselves to move across the drawing. You don’t normally draw over someone else’s drawing.

These collaborative experiments around making are at an early stage and it remains to be seen where they might lead. To what extent might the work become interlaced? We don’t know. For the moment their drawing styles remain very distinctive. They are still autonomous and it remains to be seen if that autonomy would further dissolve. While Dorothy anticipates she might become ‘less precious’, in Kathy’s return of serve she surmises that she might ‘get more controlling’. Clearly the possibilities for this process of letting go of the authorial space have many directions yet to be discovered.


Persistently Analogue

Returning to the more ethnographic elements of their increasingly shared practice, it is as though the collaborative, public nature of drawing has allowed for a much richer reading of the context. As Smith puts it:

If you were making work about Blanchardstown in the artist studio at Draíocht it would be completely different to doing the work in this gallery space. The conversations we’ve had with people really informed our sense of what the place is like. It changed my attitude.

They are well aware that drawing is one, highly specific way of engaging with questions of public space. Nonetheless they have deliberately confined themselves to drawing, employing minimal materials such as graphite pencils, carbon paper and stencils, in order to see where it can go:

It’s almost an anachronistic activity to be doing this analogue practice when everything is so digital. Our subject is the environment we move through to get to work: traffic islands, public routes, public space and public life. We’ve avoided the multi media route that a lot of artists take when making work about the built environment. We’ve also tried to show something of the work that goes into making a drawing, the materiality of it: ladders, spirit levels, pencils, carbon paper. We wanted to reveal something of the making of the work, as well as something of the place. Smith


Fig. 11 Walking / Drawing in progress, Draíocht Gallery, Kathy Herbert & Dorothy Smith 2014


In that spirit of revealing the artistic process, during their five-day residency Kathy and Dorothy also conducted workshops where participants were introduced to the idea of walking as fieldwork, a way of engaging with place and the use of drawing as note taking. Participants were introduced to gathering and making notes while walking. Like many an ethnographer, or indeed the ever more prevalent number of artists operating in site-based work, participants discovered the way ‘fieldwork’ transforms a sense of place:

The workshop made me think of the possibilities of research as a creative process. I can see the value of what’s in front of me. It was interesting for me to expand my way of seeing. I saw the beauty of logos, the leisure plex, the cog connecting – that we are cogs in this whole world, the plex in this big complex world. It was very invigorating. Workshop participantpage12image1043648352

Fig. 12 Walking / Drawing workshop in progress, Draíocht Gallery 2014 Conclusion

Smith and Herbert’s collaborative drawing at Draíocht is preoccupied with the present, an immediate response to place over an intensive, five-day immersion. In research terms it’s a mode of ethnographic inquiry that literally takes a slice of time and harnesses it as the grounding for an artistic response to place. Such a method naturally invites the idea of return, the accumulation of time-based samples of place where earlier readings can influence, invade and transform later ones like their drawing practice has invaded and transformed notions of artistic autonomy, territory and representation.


The idea of return introduces the creative possibilities of the longitudinal study. It lends itself to the idea of layering, in precisely the same way that some walls contain compacted readings of highly local histories. The process of the peeling back of wallpaper in order to reveal history is reversed and instead, we see here the possibilities of a process of textured accumulation, the building up of papered layers of the present to tell particular stories of place. In short, a ‘layering up’ as opposed a peeling back. In any case, at the level of the particular, there are things building up and things hidden underneath.

Here we see a familiar epistemological tension between that insular, self- contained preoccupation with artwork and the ethnographic impulse, which opens up questions of place. In Vagabond Reviews, that tension has provided a crucial point of creative inflection between aesthetics and knowledge production. In our own practice we are always navigating that re-reading of artistic practice as a form of research. On a purely aesthetic register the drawings at Draíocht can read as beautifully rendered art works. As a persistently analogue ethnography, they can also be read as a series of notations, like field notes that evoke a sense of place via an archaeology of attention to the particularity of things.

Vagabond Reviews December 2014


On the Tightrope by Mick O’Dea

Catalogue foreword by Mick O’Dea, RHA, Aosdána, published in ‘On The Tightrope’ for a 2 person show with Sahoko Blake at Gormleys Fine Art, Dublin, June 2014.
Modern World, pencil on paper, 38.5 x 38.5cm

At a time when the definition of drawing is wide open, when any type of mark making is drawing by definition, it is refreshing to encounter the work of artists who have built up a significant body of individual, sophisticated and intelligent drawings, drawings that have been honed from years of careful observation of the world around them. Tentative inquiry, firm resolution, coupled with a thorough knowledge of past achievements by masters of the art, have brought the careers of Sahoko Blake and Dorothy Smith to their present level of accomplishment.

Sahoko Blake, originally from Tokyo has a distinguished career as an underwater camera woman, teacher and artist to her credit, she has been living in Ireland for the past twenty years, always beside the sea which competes with terra firma as her natural habitat. Her drawings of sea creatures and animal skulls have many of the characteristics of the drawings made by artists who accompanied the great explorers when seeking out new habitats, plants and animals. They are made in order to describe and understand as fully as possible. The images in these works have emerged, teased out carefully from the surface of the paper with the nuances and textures of the subject subtly and firmly realized. There is a sense of wonder in the encounter by the artist of her subject, she is amazed by what nature has presented to her for contemplation, her translations into drawings communicate that sense of wonder. We encounter highly tuned work, drawings that are made on the tightrope, demanding the full concentration of the artist whose considerable gifts bring her vision of the fabulous world that surrounds her directly to us.

Dorothy Smith is an artist with a long established career in Ireland. She has been successfully involved in arts administration from the perspective of a trained artist before devoting herself full time to her art. She has organized exhibitions and events while participating in residencies and showing in many of the major national exhibitions. Her approach to drawing is analytical, she is fascinated by structure and construction. Apart from her ongoing exploration of the human form and the portrait, an area of activity that she shares with Blake, Smith has made a lifelong study of the built environment that she is exposed to everyday. Currently her attention is focused on her Dublin neighbourhood, in particular noticing spaces such as traffic islands; those places that offer sanctuary to the pedestrian as they negotiate our shared public space. She is drawn to the structures that people blur out, that stand forlorn, such as a derelict freestanding electric advertising board, the size of a building, just being there. In Smith’s world, they step forward, while the more established street scape recedes. Smith knows that we are shaped by our environment and that we have developed highly sophisticated ways of editing what intrudes into our personal narrative. The language of drawing becomes the subject as well as the means of inquiry for Smith, her box drawings and crumpled paper studies observe patterns and dislocations in line that are very beautiful and revealing. These are ground breaking works.

Package, Pencil on paper, 10 x 10cm
Thoughts on Paper, marker on paper, 8 x 8cm

Blake and Smith met at the drawing sessions that were held at the RHA Studio back in 2000. Both artists were invited to partake in the formative drawing sessions with interested Academicians that led to the present stage in the revival of the Academy School. Many connections were forged at that time between artists who were passionate about drawing and what drawing can do. It is the great communicator, transcending language barriers and touching people deeply and profoundly. The Academy School continues to provide a forum for artists to meet and exchange ideas. Sahoko Blake and Dorothy Smith have been intrinsically linked to the school since it’s formation, the idea for this exhibition has its genesis there, words can only say so much about drawing, the drawings presented by these two colleagues say a lot about us and our world because their authorship is by clearheaded observers and artists with insight.

Mick O’ Dea, RHA, Aosdána
Portacloy 2014

The Allegory of Place by Silvia Loeffler

Silvia Loeffler profiles Kathy Herbert and Dorothy Smith’s project ‘Open to the Public’, which was shown at Satellite Studios Project Space, Dublin during October 2013.


Dorothy Smith, Pencil on paper, 30 x 20cm

To download PDF of article click here

The character of buildings and the economic realities of an area are all factors that can colour our perception and experience of place. The rhythms of a city, along with its smells and sounds, create emotional impulses, ranging from a sense of well being to repulsion. A focus on emotional and visual responses to space was at the heart of Kathy Herbert and Dorothy Smith’s recent ‘Open To the Public’ (9 – 19 October 2013) project at Satellite Studios Project Space, Dublin.1 In doing so, their work stresses the private and intimate relationship we can have with our environment. Their joint work is a search for possible alternative interpretations of public space.

Both Herbert and Smith have an ongoing interest in taking art out of formal studio and gallery frameworks and a keen interest in forging more dynamic relationships between the artist and the audience. As the title of their project emphasised, their concern was to expand on public experience and involvment with the creative process.

Drawing is central to both Smith and Herbert’s working methods. Prior to ‘Open to the Public’, the artists undertook individual drawing projects as part of Phizzfest (Phibsborough Community and Arts Festival), Herberts’s Drawing Conversations and Smith’s weareallinthistogether. 2 The artists’ projects for Phizzfest used drawing in public spaces to investigate issues of communication and audience interaction and formed the basis for their work in Satellite Studios.

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