Arts: Germantown-native Kambel Smith Debuts Sculpture Exhibition At Fleisher/Ollman Gallery

Smith uses found cardboard to recreate iconic architecture.

Germantown native Kambel Smith is showing his second solo exhibition at Fleisher/Ollman, on display until May 26. 

The exhibition, Kambel Smith’s Buildings, showcases Smith’s large-scale sculptural re-creations of iconic architecture. Smith, who is self-taught and works with cardboard mostly recovered from the garbage, as well as foam board, glue, paint, and a variety of media, pays special attention to recreating particular architectural details.

“Kambel started out with vanvas oil,” Lonnie Smith, Kambel’s father, said. “And he did that for maybe eight years or so. He started when he was maybe about 14 and at one point, I became ill and we couldn’t afford to get his canvas. So, he started grabbing boxes and things out of the trash.” 

Kambel’s recreations of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial (Christine Jean-Baptiste/PN)

Smith relies entirely on photographs taken from the Internet for his sculptures. Smith painted historical structures on canvas, bucolic landscape paintings, and other subjects before beginning this current series of architectural sculptures.

“He starts out by researching and he does a lot of research of old buildings online,” Lonnie Smith said. “And he likes certain shapes of certain buildings. So, he’ll start grabbing cardboard to match those pieces.” 

One of Smith’s pieces sold for $25,000. It was a model of the Philadelphia Museum of Art made from found cardboard. It was purchased by the American Folk-Art Museum.

Kambel’s recreation of Philadelphia’s Chinatown Arch. (Christine Jean-Baptiste/PN).

Fleischer Ollmen gallery executive director Alex Baker is particular fond of Smith’s recreation of Philadelphia’s Chinatown Arch. 

“Smith’s palette of primary colors, use of gold leaf, and details that resemble small pieces of art bring to life his rendition of this Philadelphia landmark,” Baker said.

The Woolworth and Flat Iron skyscrapers, as well as other New York landmarks, are also featured in the exhibition. Other works investigates the classical austerity of Washington, D.C. architecture in Smith’s interpretations of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. 

Kambel’s recreation of New York’s Flat Iron building. (Christine Jean-Baptiste/PN)

“I’m so compelled by his work and to hear that he was painting first and started using things that are accessible and using cardboard and creating these beautiful sculptures,” artist Danielle Callahan said while observing Smith’s work at the gallery. 

Kambel Smith has long used painting to express himself and manage his autism, especially his anger and frustration, Lonnie Smith said.

“When we finally found his gift in his art, he focused all of his rage into it,” Lonnie Smith said. “And instead of being angry, he creates. And that’s what makes him a master at what he does.”   

For Lonnie Smith, Kambel’s ability to replicate large structures effortlessly without the use of specialized tools continually amazes him.

“The thing about him is that he doesn’t measure anything,” Lonnie Smith said. “Everything’s done by sight. That’s an ability that he has and he can see scale. He just grabs pieces and he just starts putting the pieces together.”

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