SARAHHAMILL: In this work, Smith has made a series of different forms, cubes, angles, and grounded them together on a pedestal.
NARRATOR: Sarah Hamill is an assistant professor at Oberlin College. She’s written extensively on David Smith, and her book on his photography is scheduled to come out in 2014.
SARAHHAMILL: What he did after that was he coated it in a protective coating that was commonly used in industry. He put a powdered glass coating on it and he baked it in a furnace. That powered glass dissolved to form the colors that you see on the surface. So there are different modeled effects that appear. They’re blue and black, and they are irregular.
Smith was really interested at the time of thinking about a way to make sculpture polychrome. And he talked about different ways this could happen in a 1940 essay that listed all the different ways that contemporary sculpture could and should make use of industrial applications of paint. He was arguing against a commonly held view that sculpture needed to be white as in marble or brown or green as in bronze with different patinas on it.
In the 1930s, what he did was meticulously research these kind of industrial coatings and chemical color reactions for how industry could be used to make steel sculpture.