One of Pierick Smith‘s proudest pieces of artwork in his compact Chicago studio features Michael Jordan. The flailing gold chains about his neck. Those idyllic red and black sneakers. The hand in a Spock sign—perhaps because Mike was otherworldly. The painting, like Jordan’s dunk, is fluid, delicate, yet powerful, and full of so much grace Mikhail Baryshnikov would blush in its presence.
Smith has dubbed his paintings “Pop-Pop Art,” owing to the Warhol-esque homage to popular culture icons—particularly athletes—and the use of X-Acto-knifed foamboard of the subject, details, and background which produces a 3-D effect. The Jordan piece epitomizes Pop-Pop: an athlete bigger than his sport and a subject that is literally jumping off the canvas.
The painting, however, is more than a seminal work in Smith’s portfolio. There is something more important Smith wants people to see.
“What is highbrow art?” Smith asked and took a long sip of coffee, letting his rhetorical question hang there beside Jordan. “Matisse is a genius because he painted three practicing ballerinas and I’m a hack because I paint Michael Jordan? Aren’t they both equally beautiful?”
The painting—like most in his ever-burgeoning collection—is an assault on the art world and its exclusionary culture and romantic past. For Smith the art is about embracing the hero in all of us and celebrating—but not living—in the past.