The Artists' Muse

Harry Smith and admirers

If we are to believe the colorful, self-mythologizing accounts of the artist Harry Smith (1923- 1991), on his 12th birthday his father gave him a fully equipped blacksmith shop and told him to work until he turned lead into gold. Smith's artistic endeavors from that point were driven by a deep search for alchemical principles, and for a synthesis of art and science. Through his wide-ranging pursuits—film, anthropology, musicology (his Anthology of American Folk Music is an icon), and art—he became a cult figure, admired for seeking correspondences among disparate mediums.

A selection of Smith's paintings (such as the untitled "Zodiac drawing"), never before exhibited, goes on view September 10 at the James Cohan Gallery, in New York (41 West 57th Street), along with works by two of his most dedicated admirers: Philip Taaffe and Fred Tomaselli. Taaffe explores the relationships between patterns, objects, rhythm, and color, as in Luna Park. Tomaselli's optically adventurous works (like Red Star), in acrylic, hemp, and a variety of pharmaceuticals, concern the power of mind-bending visions. Like Smith, each artist successfully transforms common elements into something much more lustrous: a music of the spheres.