American abstract painter Josh Smith has a new exhibition entitled “On the water” currently showing at Deitch Studios in New York.

Presenting a show of “art without an art object”, the artist has taken the unusual step of painting directly onto the gallery walls.  On initial glance the 47 different works are presented as canvases placed traditionally around the space as you would expect, but on closer inspection viewers realise that they are part of the gallery and there is literally no product to buy.

Painted using India ink and gouache, which is like an opaque watercolor, they are designed to have a fluidity that reflects the flow of water on the river, visible through the gallery windows, giving the impression that the works are floating.

Having displayed his works all over the globe, and at some of the most influential galleries in the world (including the Saatchi Gallery) his work is know for having three main themes – his signature, leaves and fish – all of which are presented here. The works draw on his print making background and his study of the work of Picasso, Duchamp, de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Polke, Wool, Oehlen and Kippenberger to create a new approach to abstraction. His “simple” work opens a fresh and complex set of possibilities for painting.  Check them out below.

The Signature

Smith looked for something with the meaning stripped out of it. “Josh Smith” is a bland name, and an ideal armature for painting.

The Leaf

The image is derived from an actual oak leaf that the artist keeps in a cigar box in his studio. He has painted it several hundred times. The leaf is softer and more “figurative” than the signature. With the leaf and the fish, he is trying to “show more heart.”

The Fish

The fish can be painted in three or for lines. “You cannot paint it wrong.”


“On the water” is at Deitch Studios in New York until 28th March.