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David Roland Smith was an American Abstract Expressionist sculptor best known for creating large steel abstract geometric sculptures.
Born in Decatur, Indiana. Smith grew up in Paulding, Ohio, where his father Harvey ran the Paulding Telephone Company and mother Golda taught school. He studied at Ohio University and the University of Notre Dame, but dropped out. He joined the Art Students League of New York in 1927. There, he discovered the works of Picasso, Mondrian, Kandinsky, and the Russian Constructivists, and became friends with Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jan Matulka, and Jackson Pollock. Smith started devoting himself entirely to metal sculptures, constructing compositions from steel and "found" scrap material. In the summer of 1929, Smith bought a house in Bolton Landing, in upstate New York and won the Logan Medal of the arts. In 1940, Smith moved permanently to Bolton Landing and created the Terminal Iron Works studio. In the long term, this allowed him to enlarge the size of many of his welded sculptures, moving to installations that increased in size as time passed by. In the short term, the Second World War disrupted Smith's supply of metal and reduced the demand for abstract art, leading Smith to draw and paint more than he had done previously. Smith painted prolifically throughout most of his career. He created landscapes, cubist abstractions and in the 1960s a series of sprayed pictographs that resemble visual studies for his Cubi sculptures. In 1957, the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, presented a Smith retrospective, complete with work dating back to 1932. In 1961, MoMA organized a major traveling exhibition of his work. In 1962, the government of Italy invited Smith to create two works for a festival, and gave him free access to an abandoned welding studio in the small town of Voltri, in Liguria. There, finding massive stockpiles of material, Smith decided to switch his plans from stainless steel to steel. The result was his Voltri series: 27 sculptures created in just 30 days.
He began his Cubi series of monumental, geometric steel sculptures in 1961.
However, at the peak of his influence and still working on Cubi, he died in a car crash in 1965.
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