Past Exhibitions – 2023

Melanie Smith
Tickled Pink, Green with Envy

5 April – 20 May 2023


‘I’m interested in the depth of different scales and themes that repeatedly appear, resurge or emerge in distinct ways. Nowadays it feels like there’s a cosmography or compendium of thought processes that are perceivable as my work evolves.’

Parafin is delighted to present a solo exhibition by Melanie Smith, her second with the gallery. While Smith is known primarily for her film and video installations, presented in museums and biennials internationally, this exhibition will focus solely on her aesthetic investigation into the logic of the pictorial plane.

The exhibition will include a selection of Smith’s paintings from the last twenty years, as well as new works. Important pieces such as Vanishing Landscape II (2006) and Fordlandia VII (2014), which relate to major film projects and which have historically been presented as part of ambitious multi-media installations, will be shown independently for the first time. The works on display address motifs as varied and disparate as the Brazilian rainforest, technical diagrams, aerial views of Mexico City, monkeys, Regency wallpaper designs, redacted details of historic works by William Blake, Big Ben, and a disembodied foot. The range of media Smith works with include oil and acrylic paints, encaustic and enamel, canvas, board and plexiglass.

Rather than presenting the work chronologically, as a historical survey, the exhibition groups the works thematically, revealing the palimpsest-like interconnectivity of Smith’s extensive and complex oeuvre. The themes explored range from montage – where the relationship between picture plane and the temporal aesthetic frame are challenged – to anatopic, in the sense that something seems out of place, challenging assumptions about referents, leading to an ‘un- framing’ – and estrangement, where the gaze is destabilised by an oblique perspective or a misaligned view. It is impossible for the images in the show to be unified, as there is no linearity of narrative. This peaks with a group of extraordinary new watercolour drawings being shown for the first time.

These works blend and layer fragments of classical landscape with maps, natural history illustrations and geological diagrams in a kind of Surreal excess, or an ecological meltdown, an overload of information analogous to the effects of recent film works such as Fifteen Minutes of Sublime Meditation (2020).


Tickled Pink, Green with Envy
Melanie Smith interviewed by Ben Tufnell

I never studied painting, this seems to be a bit of a myth. During my time at Reading University, I made a lot of relief works out of paper, then wood, which eventually turned into more three-dimensional pieces but which were somehow always attached to the wall. I didn’t really define any style until the last year when I worked incredibly hard to get something together. My final presentation consisted of wood reliefs that had carefully finished graphite surfaces which in some way resembled Minimalist surfaces. When I went to Mexico, I then made these monochrome paintings that were so bright and fluorescent you could hardly look at them. I guess
the intention was to make the surface so impenetrable that contemplation was impossible. It was a rejection
of what I’d been taught. // continue reading

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Selected Works

Melanie Smith
Bulto 2, 2010
Oil on canvas mounted on MDF
35 × 40 cm

Melanie Smith
Fordlandia VII, 2014
Acrylic enamel on acrylic
150 × 180 cm

Melanie Smith
Monkeys III, 2010
Oil and acrylic enamel on canvas
75 × 60 cm

Melanie Smith
Big Ben 2, 2010
Acrylic enamel and encaustic on wood
41 × 50 cm

Melanie Smith
Cat 6, 2016
Oil and encaustic on wood
31 × 28 cm

Melanie Smith
Anel, 2010
Oil and acrylic enamel on MDF
70 × 55 cm


Melanie Smith (born 1965) is widely considered one of the leading artists of her generation. She was born and studied in the UK but moved to Mexico City in 1989. Working across a range of media Smith explores notions of modernity in relation to art history and contemporary society. She has consistently addressed a number of interrelated themes encompassing the aesthetics of abstraction, urbanization, colonialism and, more recently, nature and entropy, working through a blurring and blending of the worlds of painting, cinema, and performance.

Smith lives and works in London and Mexico City. Following her move to Mexico she became a key member of a burgeoning art community there, alongside contemporaries such as Francis Alÿs and Gabriel Orozco. Smith’s move came at a pivotal moment; leaving the political and economic tensions of Britain, in Mexico she witnessed the impact of capitalist modernisation, neo- liberal globalisation and hyper-consumerism, the development of an informal economy alongside traditional forms of manufacture, and the ongoing failures or collapse of modernity. These two contexts, Mexico and Britain, remain central to her work.

In 2011 Melanie Smith represented Mexico at the 54th Venice Biennale, Italy. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Farce and Artifice’, MACBA, Barcelona (2018), MUAC, Mexico City (2019) and Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico (2019), Milton Keynes Gallery (2014), Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania (2014) and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2014). Recent group exhibitions include Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2019), the Liverpool Biennial (2018), Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, (2016), and Kunstmuseum Bern (2016) amongst many others. Her work is in many important international collections including Tate, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, MACBA, Barcelona, IVAM, Valencia, Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zurich, La Coleccion Jumex, Mexico City and the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami.