October 18, 2016

Artist Seton Smith's Minimalistic Lower East Side Apartment

Photographer Seton Smith's home on the Lower East Side is a reflection of her artistic point of view.

by Deborah L. Martin photographer Costas Picadas

Seton Smith is an artist born into a family of artists. Her father, Tony Smith, was an architect, visual artist, and pioneering minimalist sculptor. Her mother, Jane Lawrence, was an opera singer and actress who posed for Jackson Pollack's Painting, No. 7, now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seton's sister, Kiki, is an acclaimed artist and sculptor, and their sister Bebe was an underground actress who died of AIDS in 1988. Seton's distinctly visual point of view was formed at an early age.

Seton Smith at home.
Seton Smith at home.

She divides her time between a Hausmannian/modernist apartment in Paris and an apartment on the Lower East Side where her sister Kiki lived and worked for 20 years. "When Kiki moved out in 2000, my friends and I bought the building. I gutted the apartment and started with an empty shell," says Smith. It is both her living space and studio. "I use the walls in all the rooms to hang the prints that I make here, as well as final full-scale images that are made in a lab."

The spare interior functions as a neutral space. "I didn't want to have any color or extra objects influence my work. I bought new furniture, mostly designed by Damian Williamson, and saved the Paul McCobb chairs [in the dining area]." Smith continues, "Coincidentally, around 5 years ago I started making elemental black and white horizontal photographs of exteriors." To separate the living and studio space she added a translucent wall with doors allowing light to flow through the space. "I follow the sun. I have east and west exposures with a skylight in the middle, so I end up with the late afternoon sun in my bedroom where I spend time reading."

Shelter is a deeply important subject for Smith. She says, "Different building types have been a significant theme in my work, as they provide a language for how we read architecture and analyze its emotional and psychological effects." She is often attracted to historical house museums in the United States and abroad. "I love the Ford Mansion where George Washington stayed during a harsh winter in Morristown, New Jersey. Its rooms are very sparse and I can remember the windows and campaign beds." She is currently focused on photographing the exteriors of vernacular houses in the United States. "Houses propose a questioning as to how we are formed and influenced in the spaces where we live, socioeconomically, as places of nurturing and safety, of repression, growth, and aging."

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