Richard Lee Smith:
An Artist's Journey
By Donna Letterese
Painter Richard Lee Smith's journey as an artist began at the young age of fourteen. Attending a well-renowned magnet school for the arts likely had a great deal to do with this.
"I went to Dallas's Booker T. Washington High School, which specializes in working with teenagers interested in the arts," Smith explains. "Once I learned about this place, being able to focus on drawing and painting suddenly made school sound like the most amazing thing."
Those in the Visual Arts program were treated like college students. Smith was pushed at a higher level, and allowed to work in an individualized way best suited for his artistic voice.
Upon graduation, he then moved to California to study at the San Francisco Art Institute. "I was really enthusiastic about wanting to please my professors, and to make good art," Smith reflects. "They pushed me to work until we were both satisfied."
While some artists rail against the necessity for art school, Smith credits it with having taught him the skills and discipline necessary for success. "A great teacher can really guide you as a mentor," Smith points out. "Being in school forces you to be there and create. It's a huge help to study under someone you admire, where you can look up to them and their work as you learn."
Smith has been consistently showing his work since graduating from high school. His first exhibition was right before he left for college, at a Dallas art gallery that had been converted from a house. This first art opening and art show had a strong turnout, as did Smith's second show with a fellow painter at the Art Bar in Dallas.
In 2007, after being in a group show at Los Angeles's former DIY Gallery, that same gallery invited him to have a solo show. 2012 saw Smith enjoying another solo show, held at the Design Arts District of Dallas.
After that, he took a break from painting. Yet, Smith was invigorated to put brush to canvas again after this past summer, when he unexpectedly had the chance to be in a pop-up show at a Los Angeles hair salon/gallery. He has since returned to a daily painting practice.
Smith is in love with the process of art-making, particularly the organic movements of one's hand on a canvas. While making these marks and movements, he aims to create a small world, where viewers of the work can then immerse themselves.
His paintings are very influenced by the abstract expressionist genre. Jackson Pollack's enormous and expressive pieces, Basquiat's playful paintings, and the works of Van Gogh have all been a tremendous influence on Smith's own work. Mark-making is his favorite thing to do, whether painting or drawing.
Additionally, Smith is also a fine-art photographer. He prefers to shoot outdoors, citing nature as a strong influence in his life. He finds it positive, calming, and a constant inspiration behind his photographs and paintings. While there are many differences between taking and painting pictures, Smith feels the two are fueled by the same magic.
"When I'm outdoors shooting a photo, a similar feeling happens," Smith muses. "The light will get good, I can see the perfect composition, and then the need to capture it comes over me. That energy is very much what I feel when painting."
Once Smith has composed the perfect photo, he prints a single print on archival paper. He then frames it under museum glass, within an antique frame. "I collect vintage frames, and I enjoy framing these single photographs in a way that gives the piece a timeless feeling," Smith smiles. "It makes people feel as if they are looking at a painting."
Currently, Smith is painting with the intention of having another solo show. MAMA Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles is a gallery he would be honored to show at. An artist friend of his is represented by MAMA, and recently showed there. Smith loves the space. When he has finished his current collection, he is looking forward to being able to showcase it at the perfect location.
To see more of the artist's works, please go to www.RichardLeeSmithJr.com
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