American artist Josh Smith has made his moniker a central motif of his work in the past two decades. Now, he’s transplanting his graphic, painterly signature onto a handbag. For the latest iteration of the Louis Vuitton Artycapucines project, Smith and five other contemporary artists have reinterpreted the brand’s iconic style. Says the artist: “I have a simple name, with nice shapes – Os and Ss and Js – that nicely fill up a canvas or, in this instance, a bag.”

The project launched last year with artists including Alex Israel and Tschabalala Self as collaborators. This year’s group includes American painter Henry Taylor and Chinese artist Liu Wei, and their contributions run from a sculptural interpretation to a raffia bag with a beaded handle. Each design is limited to a run of 200 (price on request), many of which are sold to art collectors and VIP customers before they even hit the shelves.

The artist’s design for Louis Vuitton Artycapucines, POA.
The artist’s design for Louis Vuitton Artycapucines, POA. © Julia Noni
Making the bag
Making the bag © Christophe Coenon

Smith had one central caveat about his involvement in the project. “I insisted that they did not use any animal products,” he says, “which they were happy to do.” Instead, the Louis Vuitton crafts team adapted the style into a canvas bag, embroidered with 370,000 white stitches following the direction of Smith’s brushstrokes. The canvas and stitches were then heated in a complex, time-consuming process of sublimation, before Smith’s name was re-embroidered, and the LV logo inlaid. “It was entirely different to painting,” Smith says. “This was essentially hands-off.”

The artist, who grew up in rural Tennessee before moving to New York in the late ’90s, often reworks motifs in his work, such as fish, palm trees and skulls, as well as his own name. “I worked with a few different image styles, but I thought I would keep it light, stay away from the reapers maybe,” he tells me. “Using my name is sort of assertive, but the textures and colours help to even it out.” 

Work in progress in Smith’s studio 
Work in progress in Smith’s studio  © Paul Wetherell
The reaper is a recurring motif in Smith’s paintings
The reaper is a recurring motif in Smith’s paintings © Paul Wetherell

Today, Smith has a broad practice where his signature style is adapted to bronze sculptures, printed ’zines, posters, paintings and ceramics. His work has been exhibited at New York’s MoMA, Paris’s Centre Pompidou, Bergen Kunsthall and Bonner Kunstverein, and appeals to both eager collectors and institutions alike. Gallerist David Zwirner is currently showing two Smith exhibitions, in London and New York, which bring together the recent images of empty cityscapes he’s been compiling since March. Like his Artycapucines, the results are painterly, almost psychedelic, while giving a nod to classic expressionism. In recent years, his colour palette has shifted into something richer. But he’s very instinctive in his process. As he describes it: “I never know what will come.” 

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