In the studio: No bovver with a hoover: Dillwyn Smith

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Dillwyn Smith is not a man for compromise. The large, spare abstract paintings which line his tiny Maida Vale studio are the slow product of ceaseless self-questioning. 'The only reason they're 'finished' ', he says, 'is that I've left them longer. That's the only way I can tell now. It's what I've come to.'

If this slight 35-year-old seems prematurely world- weary, the reason is evident in the quantum leap he has made since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1986. Smith's roots are in figurative painting - fragmented images of human bodies with a political basis, produced in the ground- swell of dissatisfaction of late Thatcherite Britain. It was during a two-week sojourn at the Triangle Workshop in upstate New York in late 1989, and on a subsequent stay in Berlin, that Smith began to investigate abstraction. For the last five years he has been finding his way towards his present position of authority.

Gone are the figures. Gone, too, the square voids which characterised such early 1990s works as An Act of Contrition. He is also no longer producing the later sorties into purely ambient space. Smith's recent works are overwhelmingly confrontational and assured.

'I like the idea that they're looking you in the face,' he says, and this aggressive approach is a carry-over from the way in which Smith creates his work. He paints flat, his canvas supported on the floor by plastic cups: a method he has developed in reaction to his earlier meticulousness. Now he uses a mass-produced, plastic plant-sprayer to apply colour, then runs over it with a domestic vacuum cleaner to manipulate the paint. 'I like to keep the paintings off-balance,' he says. 'It's all about timing, fear and confidence. You know when it's coming. What I'm really doing is gradually bringing them up to the right frequency.'

His words seem to imply a means of communication with the viewer through wavebands or subliminal language. 'Our sense of visual intelligence has been lobotomised by society,' he says. 'I'm trying to resolve that. Perhaps my paintings are like part of a sentence.' But learning the language takes time. 'You'll get nothing from these pictures in a few seconds. People always seem to want to know 'the trick'; the way in. But painting's not like that. It's a primeval thing.'

Dillwyn Smith's paintings can be seen by arrangement with the Maak Gallery, Blackburn Rd, London NW6 (071-372 4112)

A version of this article by Iain Gale appears in the latest issue of 'ARTnews' magazine

(Photograph omitted)

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