For his first UK solo show, North Carolina based artist Fred Smith invites us into his parallel universe, Night City. A dimly lit world we’re only offered a glimpse into, through a gap in the fence, a keyhole or a smashed window. Multiple characters appear and reappear throughout the works, but it’s never clear who we’re supposed to trust.
This ambiguity is central to the exhibition, where good and bad, innocent and guilty are open to differing voices. Seedy characters wielding knives in trench coats and hats, hide their faces in the shadows of their garments, revealing only an intense stare. It’s never clear if they’re villain or detective, perhaps a morally skewed vigilante. “This kind of narrative in flux, where multiple people viewing the same situation would all be free to have different opinions and interpretations - I think for me, the open ended nature and accessibility to it, that’s most important,” Fred told us.
Robots with too many fingers or clocks for faces also roam throughout Night City, and are equally difficult to figure out. Kitsch tropes of popular culture such as detectives and robots are purposeful, toying with our preconceived ideas and technological fear from Sci-Fi films, or gritty villains and heroes from bad detective fiction.
The one thing we can be certain of however is that stars are important. Everyone’s collecting or searching for them with almost psychotic intent. They also offer the only source of light in an otherwise darkened Night City. Their ambient green and yellow glow illuminate the paintings and indeed the world Fred Smith creates, highlighting as well the artist’s particular skill with oil paints.