Iron Sorrows (1990) brings together what are for Alexis Smith common motifs and materials such as scavenged and repurposed metal, and street signage. Iron is one of nature’s most abundant metals. Smith, a philosopher of human detritus and poetic associations, presents it in this work as simultaneously everywhere yet paradoxically forgotten, lost in the heaps of refuse that fill junkyards and vacant lots.
In 8 Ball Surfboard (1995),Alexis Smith combines her long-term interests in California culture and conceptual assemblage. The surfboard, an emblem of Southern California, emblazoned with the image of an eight-ball, references numerous tropes and clichés of American popular culture, specifically subcultures related to pool halls, surfing, and beaches. Indeed, this model-scale surfboard may be a future pop-culture relic, referencing a particular surfer or era of board design.
At a moment when Minimalism and Conceptual Art collided, Southern California-based Alexis Smith began working with discarded street signs, matchbooks, movie posters, and other detritus to become one of the pioneers of conceptual assemblage. Her cryptic comments on the cloudy morality of American culture are derived from pop cultural references including political figures like Richard Nixon, Hollywood films, and pop musicians. This borrowing of literally recycled material and recycled cultural tropes is also seen in the work of Smith’s peers Mike Kelley, Chris Burden, and Vija Celmins.