Boy with Tire is, in large part, a play on compositional design that constitutes a well-crafted study in rhythm, repetition, balance, implied line, and directional forces. The rudimentary tire forms the centerpiece, its significance underscored by the work's title as well as its curved form, a counter to the sharp angles found on the buildings and fence. Also of importance is the enigmatic shadow that expands in the foreground at the boy's right. In light of these elements, the work must be considered in relation to a well-known painting by Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), Mystery and Melancholy of the Street (1914), in which a young girl runs across a deserted public square with a stick and hoop towards an ominous shadow around the corner. In addition to the circular symmetry between Lee-Smith's tire and de Chirico's hoop, Mystery and Melancholy also shares other key elements with Boy with Tire, including distorted spatial configurations, elongated forms, and a psychological exploration of childhood memories that were critical to surrealist theory.
In the year that Boy with Tire was completed, Lee-Smith was engaged in extensive studies of de Chirico's work. He produced a series of paintings of slender youths running or striding along train tracks and in empty squares, armed with cast-away playthings like tires and wooden rods that evoked warrior shields, swords, or spears. Such objects endowed these young boys, in an America marked by urban disarray and race- and class-based inequities, with confident, heroic qualities that evoked the idealized warrior-athletes of ancient Greece. In all of these ways, Boy with Tire and other works by Lee-Smith from this period must be considered as far more than mere commentary on urban poverty in America. They must also be placed in context with the work of other early- to mid-twentieth-century artists whose works employed psychoanalytical examination to ask larger, philosophical questions about meaning, existence, and human capability in modern life.
From: Beuchamp-Byrd, Mora J. Bulletin of the DIA 86, no. 1/4 (2012): 34-35.