A Math-y Approach to Art

The Unusual Inspiration Behind Yvette Kaiser’s Smith Sculptural Art

When a work catches a viewer’s eye at our Wicker Park gallery, they assume the “interested art lover” pose. The stop-and-stare. The tilted head. The furrowed brow. Maybe a stroke of the chin for the more stumped viewer. The fact is, some work simply takes more time to digest. 

That is definitely true of Yvette Kaiser Smith’s work. Perhaps it’s because her mixed media work is numbers-inspired, and let’s be real; most of us don’t immediately think of numbers when we’re looking at fine art.

But Kaiser Smith is definitely thinking of numbers when she creates her work, which she describes as “wall-based geometric abstractions.” Improbably, math inspires these unusual and striking, mixed-media, laser-cut acrylic pieces that will pop against any background they are given. We love them against our white walls, with just a sliver of busy North Avenue visible in the narrow windows above.

“My crocheted fiberglass works began as organic forms based on identity narratives. In 2001, while looking for a way to randomly punctuate a rhythm within a group of 80+ small units that were to be hung as a grid, my mathematician husband pointed me towards pi,” Kaiser Smith explains. “Following a sequence, the value of each digit determined where I broke the line with a space.” 

And there you have it; the one artist in “Illuminate,” our inaugural art exhibit, who is using Pi as a source of inspiration. Kaiser Smith has been working this way since 2007.

“I realized then that numbers are in all aspects of identity; that Fibonacci and prime number sequences were found in the natural world; and math structures became part of my conceptual toolbox,” she said. “The math structure opened-up narrative possibilities and working in modules.”

A Midcentury Modern Art Vibe

While the math may not be visible to the naked eye, the modernist vibe betrays a more obvious inspiration in Kaiser Smith’s work: Bauhaus. BUILDING BLOCKS (pi 2527) (e 2546)

“[Bauhaus] is probably the one movement that my work has a strong connection to– a minimal expression with a specific type of aesthetic and philosophy,” she said. “No matter how I meander into greater visual complexity, I always find my way back.”

The Bauhaus movement has undoubtedly inspired innumerable artists, but Kaiser Smith lived in Prague until she was 10, which she says was like “walking through a living museum.”

 “I do have a strong foggy memory of stage sets for children’s programming, fashion, and graphic design that was very 60s mod, and all around me,” she said. “I returned for the first time in 1999 with my mom.  When visiting various households, I saw that they had the same furniture as when we last saw them, and I recognized various pieces as great examples of Mid-Century Modern design.  Which comes out of Bauhaus.”

Being a child of communist-occupied Prague had a strong impact on her life and her art. While the Soviet reality meant a scarcity of food and material possessions, it also meant state-sponsored activities were abundant. As a child she was given a spot in the local drama club, for a brief time swimming lessons, and summer camp every year. School even included half-day Saturdays which focused on arts, crafts, and gardening.

“I have a stubbornness in my work ethic to plow through no matter what hurdle, to accept limitations as normal, to finish, to finish on deadline,” she said. “This quality came directly from my parents who lived through Nazism as children and Communism as adults.”

She has had to draw on that stubborn work ethic as an artist, and it is responsible for some of her proudest moments 

“In March of 2008, I had a significant solo of new crocheted fiberglass work at Alfedena Gallery here in Chicago. This was the first body of work fully based on the math structures. First body of work based on modules.T he largest works I created up to that point,” she said. “I worked every day, day and night, around my other responsibilities, with 4 hours of sleep, for that entire 14-month period. I took full advantage of the huge space and showed the best work I made up to that point.”

Another proud moment for Kaiser Smith was being invited to have her work installed in Facebook’s offices in Chicago. 

“After approval of design, I had only 28 days to create and install a crocheted fiberglass group that significantly activated both sides of a hallway, while engaging about 40 feet of linear space. At minimum, this piece would need a full, intensive, two-month studio run,” she said. “I am not sure how doing this much fiberglass, in the heat of the summer, in such a short time, did not kill me. The concept nor the work were compromised.”

Time and having enough of it plagues many artists, and Kaiser Smith is no exception. 

“I, as all artists, just want to make stuff, learn new stuff, make more stuff. Stealing enough time every calendar year, enough to satisfy my need to make stuff, to answer to the constant barrage of new possibilities that occupy my head, often seems a Sisyphean task,” she said. “Never enough time.”

In spite of that, Kaiser Smith loves the way her mind and her life have been formed by being an artist.

“My mind stays active. My hands are engaged. I am never bored,” she said. “I consider it a blessing and a privilege that I know who I am, an artist, and that I have found a partner who tolerates and supports all that I need to be an artist, and that I can continue getting away with being an artist.”

The privilege of being able to create art is not lost on Kaiser Smith.

“Many individuals do not live in circumstances that allow them to find who they are, and/or allow them to be that. I cannot imagine living in a state or environment, where I could not create on the level that I do currently,” she said. “Once you walk through that door, it would be painful to close it.”

You can make an appointment to see all of Yvette Kaiser’s mixed media artwork on display in our Wicker Park gallery. Or you can shop them in our online store now. 

Black & white oil painting on canvas by artist Ed Hinkley

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 Painting by Ed Hinkley: Zaira (After Calvino)


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