The Soul of Matter

by | 21 Apr, 2022

All painting is an accident. 

But it’s also not an accident, 

because one must select what part 

of the accident one chooses to preserve.
Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992)

The making process behind any artwork hides a series of pitfalls which are at the basis of any experience to become an artist. Failures and mistakes, upsetting and unexpected events are all challenges for finding one’s own path through experiencing the media. Approaching the ‘opus’ – the so called alchemical prime matter that is making up any work – is for the artist the admission of the accident as an eventuality of their work. The investigation of the matter and its secrets are the core of the research of being a knowledgeable artist, but it also means a personal involvement in its study, in the germination and development of ideas which include the progress in the artist’s life.

Derick Smith’s confidence in manipulating paint and several media confirms this expectation in progressing as an experienced artist who invested much of his time in experimenting with the soul of matter, training and disciplining himself to become a skilled painter able to approach the many challenges of being an artist. 

Derick Smith, Material study, 2021.
Ph credit and courtesy the artist.

Specifically, ‘the soul of matter’ means the connection between the artist and the essence of their art, all the related creative processes, experiments and research. Any mistake or failure, any sketch or draft or note are part of an ongoing process and a bigger picture; creating a mix of colours and materials able to awaken something within the viewer. The artist aims to create a kind of interruption of everyday life with brightening colours that clashes with an unexpected medium that could be both on canvas or clay. The medium is the message1, and the artist looks for a new personal language to shape his art and give form to his energy.

There is no failure or disappointment in his oeuvre. Every piece seems to be like the tesserae of a mosaic, and each tile makes the overall image clearer and closer to the painting’s essence. Every note or sketch in his handbooks represent an artist’s journal, a journey in Derick’s everyday practising life where he kept his technical secrets and details of his paint mixtures. His significant experience is tidily collected and described in his notebooks and now shared as a master of the mediaeval age did before him. Cennino Cennini, through his Book of the Art (1400 ca.)which preserved for future generations all his knowledge about the arts. In this case, there is no presumption of a treatise or manual, only the simplicity of being an artist for everyone and the simplicity of being able to progress in art commitments with a systematic approach.

Visual references in Derick Smith’s Studio, Roscommon, 2021.
Ph credit and courtesy the artist.

Derick’s artworks are a mix of practices and are not simple to categorise or label since they are a combination of paintings and sculptures. The consistent use of paint or clay to give extra substance to the colours is revealing his peculiar approach to the materials which are just a tool to support and express creativity. All these pigments are lifting and making vibrant colours which are supposed to be laid directly on canvas – a traditional medium that is usually synonymous with two-dimensionality – here, instead, we are unexpectedly in front of a lively sculpture on canvas as the summation of all traditional art techniques.

Those dynamic waves of colours are dropping down and falling apart, collapsing from the frame capturing the artist’s energy and the gravitational force that otherwise are invisible to the human senses.

Derick Smith is revealing in each piece his Kunstwollen2 ‘art will’ preferring a tactile vision3 more than any singular visual notion. His colours have a specific consistency to offer a sculptural vision in continuous development, a sequence of organic metamorphosis that we are constantly following up with a subverted expectation.

Furthermore, he eludes any category of abstract painting, what remains is the intention to understand the progression, the lines which are connecting the aesthetic and empathy in Derick’s oeuvre. His artworks are an expression of pure visibility4, and they are emphatically eliciting an aesthetic message of unity and beauty. It is due consideration to be open and free to receive this message as an epiphany of the Einfühlung5(literally ‘empathy’) transferred by the artist in his artworks.

Derick Smith, Study on paper #155, 2022.
Ph credit and courtesy the artist.

That energy is enshrined in each drop and revealed through his brushstrokes, marks or pieces of clay released by the dynamic vibration of each selected colour and material that give a concrete lift to Derick’s artwork. His connection with the surrounding energies that he is transferring to his painting reveals references to artists from the past. During the classical tradition, it was common for artists to invoke the muses to get inspiration for their pieces. Now we are in the presence of a contemporary artist who is no longer invoking Mnemosyne or her daughters to get his inspiration, but an authentic independent artist. Derick is constantly collecting images, elaborating those visual stimuli and stirrings to transfer them into a vibrant combination of colours and matters. Moreover, the importance of the matter and the relation of clay as a biblical and traditional material is unavoidable. Clay is the perfect material to mould and impress fingerprints and energies. Often, an artist acts as a creator, able to impart his vital energy to give life to an inanimate object. In this case, again, Derick Smith reinterprets the tradition by imprinting dynamic energy to each piece as an artist that wants only to invite people to be connected with and feel part of his work. Everyone is invited to see through his paintings, being receptive and aware of moving beyond superficial appearances to get to the essence of the matter.

His notebooks and his diligent approach to the material are testament to his constant research into the soul of matter. Craft elements like plywood, cardboard and many other cheap materials are basically the elements used in his pieces, but this doesn’t mean that these objects have less value than a ‘finished’ piece since they represent the real essence of his art. They are the core of a bigger process that discloses a sense of unity between his research and practice. They reveal a symbiotic process of the organic flow of his art, and his integrity and interest in reducing the complexity of the process to minimalism.

Derick Smith’s art is a free flow of energy and creativity, there are no barriers or physical boundaries in his work since he has the freedom to use any material as a support and to play with space, opening new alternatives and original realities free to float in an illusionary dimension. His work opens new spheres of space and time, of perception and intuition where we are all invited to take part in, walking with the artist and embracing the awakening of senses.


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964.

Alois Riegl, Late Roman art industry, 1901.

See Adolf Hildebrand, The problem of form in painting and sculpture, 1893.

Alois Riegl, Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts, 1966.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945.

See the theories postulated by Konrad Fiedler, Adolf Hildebrand and Hans von Marées. 

Robert Vischer, On the Optical Sense of Form: A Contribution to Aesthetics, 1873.