Display Cases in the Great Hall: Exhibition Archive

The inaugural exhibition:

William Smith

September 15th - October 31st

Flowers of the Sky

Flowers of the Sky is a series of life-size botanical paintings on the folios of an 18th century astronomy text, dismantled and then reassembled into an accordion-fold artist book. The transformation of the text of James Ferguson's Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles (1799) began in response to a Victorian astronomy book entitled Flowers of the Sky in the archive of the John Work Garrett Library at Johns Hopkins University.

As the artist describes, the fluid yet tenuous painting on the book pages is analogous to a fragile web or distant constellation. For Smith, flowers are symbols of our selves and of nature, as well as a metaphor for the machinations of the universe. Implicitly, book folios serve as multivalent supports for the painted leaves and flowers that adorn them with color and design imposed over printed words.

In the works on view with Flowers of the Sky, William Smith manipulates the intimate setting of a book page, a small-scale print or piece of paper, and approaches landscape as a response to the pages and their text, or the words found there. At times he reveals and at times obscures the words on the page. His visual language consists of representations of reflection, dissolving surfaces, hidden meaning, and impenetrability.  Combining this language with the eloquence of a natural landscape, Smith reflects the tensions between ordered and  accidental marks, or the absence of human presence with the implicit sense of human touch in a painted surface.


Flowers of the Sky, 2003, oil paint on printed book pages from James Ferguson, Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles, 1799.

Also on view:

Silence, 2007, oil paint on printed book page
Untitled, 2007, oil paint on printed book page
Solitude, 2007, oil paint on printed book page
Of the Division of Time, 2007, oil paint on printed book pages:
p. 363 and p. 368

All works courtesy of the artist and Littlejohn Contemporary
Artist website
Curated by Lisa A. Banner