WOMEN WHO CREATE: BAKER AND ARTIST LEXIE SMITH
Sometimes you come across art and it looks more transcendent than real. Forcing you to take a moment to really comprehend what exactly it is that you are looking at. Discovering the bread sculptures of New York based artist Lexie Smith certainly evoked this feeling. The 28-year-old baker is, what you can only describe as, a bread enthusiast. She not only turns dough into concrete objects in her home and test kitchen in Queens, but also runs the community based art project “Bread on Earth”, which uses “bread as a lens to see disparate parts of the world up close.” With her very personal approach to a grocery most people spend rather little thought on, Lexie is turning society’s food-obsession right on its head, positioning bread in an entirely new, abstract context. On this notion, we asked Lexie about her craft, her creativity, and what creating means to her.
In your own words, what do you do and what is your goal with what you create?
I run “Bread on Earth”, which uses bread as a pathway to a bevy of diverse conversations, and I’m working on a number of other projects – mostly print-based – in its midst. I like to say we’re all just trying to stay busy, killing time. That’s not really it, but it heaves off some of the weight to pretend.
What incidents and decisions most influenced your creative journey until now?
I’ve always been jostling between food and art, mostly drawing and writing. When I was working full-time in food I ended up in the pastry department of restaurants, which I really didn’t care for. I don’t like sugar and I don’t like making pastries. Not only that, I don’t like working in restaurants. Bread always felt bigger to me than its place in that world. I was obsessive about it, like many bread bakers, amateur or otherwise. It slowly started bleeding into my art, which I hadn’t felt entitled to be making in the first place. Using bread just gave me permission. My base anxiety and host of conflicting interests – the millennial in me – forced me to build a kind of telescope through which to see the world. I had to pick a single lens to look through and now I feel like I can explore anything, everything, up close. I think it’s a useful tool for a lot of people to cut through the fractured neuroses of a creative brain – or really any brain functioning in this culture of info and access overload. Bread is an ideal lens because its already compelling and associative to most – it doesn’t take much to convince people to pay attention.
Apart from your ceaseless interest in bread, what is the biggest driving force behind your work?
My goal always was to map the un-mappable: the passage of ideas, tangents in conversations and narrative of forms. Evolutions influence a lot of what I work on; watching things become something else. In that sense research plays into my work as much as visual stimuli. Understanding context, absorbing the past.
What is the most challenging part of your creation process?
I’m divided amongst a number of mediums, and I’m reluctant to marry any of them. I indefinitely choose one at a time, and then long for the rest. I always feel hurried, like I left the stove on in my mistress’ apartment.
On the contrary: What is the most exciting part of your creation process?
There’s a small moment at the conception of an idea, before doubt sets in, and at the moment of fruition, should it ever come, when a thing is suddenly visible and full of potential energy. Both rise above doubt and grief, are exhilarating and fleeting.
Do you view your creation and carving out a place for it in society as something feminist?
No, I think it runs backwards to think of a woman creating something as innately feminist, just based on those factors.
What do you do when you can’t create, when you have a creative block?
I walk around New York. I go to book stores, used ones. Eat a snack. Think about Dieter Roth, Fischli and Weiss, etc….
Where do you feel the most at ease, what would be your ideal work environment?
I’m a diehard homebody. My apartment is constantly changing but is always very intentionally designed to be a place that I see as a mirror to my aesthetic tastes, values, interests. Somewhere I can look around and come back to center in. My studio is nearby and serves the same purpose. I really really really like to work alone, until the blossoming of certain projects which require, and are founded on, lively communities.
What might people be most surprised to learn in relation to your work?
I don’t consider myself a baker. A lot of people refer to me as that, but I only see bread as a kind of muse right now… a boon, an anchor.
How do you feel when creating?
I can’t answer this generally, because the sway back and forth between doubt and energy or mania is so constant. It’s usually on one side or the other, always hued with at least a hint of anxiety. I’m rarely feeling calm. The meditative elements of creating – baking, writing, drawing, whatever – only go so far as to neutralize the extremes of the high and low.
With the series Women Who Create, Material Magazine is looking to highlight women from a variety of professions and passions that use their unique talents to carve out a space for themselves and their art in our cultural landscape.