Finds inspiration in reading

Bibliophiles: Shinique Smith, artist

(Matthew Cavanaugh for The Globe)

The artist Shinique Smith creates exuberant paintings, sculptures, videos, and large-scale installations, WHICH CURRENTLY ARE on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. “Bright Matter” is on view through March 1. Smith also painted a mural in Boston’s Dewey Square Park on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway.

BOOKS: What’s the last great book you read?

SMITH: Does a book that I reread count? Even an old, silly book like “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach. It still applies. Another is “Statements by Pablo Picasso.’’ I came across that when I went through some boxes. It’s a really old, cute book. People are always quoting Picasso from that.

BOOKS: How has your reading changed since you moved from Brooklyn to the Catskills?

SMITH: In the city, taking the subway is a perfect opportunity to read. When you are driving more you read less. There aren’t those gaps of time to fill. Sometimes I read before bed, but often I start going from passage to passage, sometimes in multiple books. I browse kind of the way you read the Internet. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of poetry. I like Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, and the African-American poet Audre Lorde. Because of all the political things in the world, I’ve been looking at Ralph Ellison’s memoir “Invisible Man.”

BOOKS: Does your reading influence your art?


SMITH: This might be weird, but sometimes I go to a book and ask it a question. If I’m seeking words of inspiration or help in titling an artwork, I’ll open a book to a random page and read a line out of context. That gives it a different meaning. Sometimes that works for me; sometimes it doesn’t. Before my show in Boston I was rereading a book I’ve had since undergraduate school, “Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp” by Pierre Cabanne, which was the last interview with the artist.

BOOKS: What are you reading in addition to poetry?

SMITH: I just started “Harlem is Nowhere” by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, which is a reflection on Harlem’s cultural importance. I also started “Claire of the Sea Light” by Edwidge Danticat. I like novels with poetic language but that are economical with it so it’s not flowery. I recently reread Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” after I happened on Jack London State Historic Park during a trip to California. That is one of my favorite top 10 books since I was in 4th grade.


BOOKS: Were there a lot of books in your house when you were growing up?

SMITH: My mother had a lot of books about fashion, art, esoteric knowledge, and science. She loved the artist Erté. She wrote to him, and he wrote back. He became a mentor to her. We had books of his fashion designs.

BOOKS: Do you still read about fashion?

SMITH: I have “Stuff” by the anthropologist Daniel Miller. The first chapter is about why clothing is not superficial. Miller has another book called “The Comfort of Things.” That’s next in line.

BOOKS: What were the last books you bought?

SMITH: The Danticat book, and I bought two art books: a Guggenheim Museum catalogue of three decades of work by Carrie Mae Weems and a book on the German artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. I haven’t taken the plastic off of that yet because it’s so beautiful. I also bought “EyeMinded” by Kellie Jones. She writes a lot about black artists. It’s a collection of her writing on different black artists such as Betye Saar, Jean Michel Basquiat and Martin Puryear. I’ve been forbidden to buy any more books by my fiancé because, I guess, I buy more books than I will ever have time to read. He’s like, “Why don’t you finish everything that you have before you buy more?”


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Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version incorrectly referred to the “Bright Matter” exhibit and the mural in Boston’s Dewey Square Park.