Smith’s artistic lineage from realism to abstract impressionism has resulted in a meld of styles that is a feast for the eyes.
By Laura Richards
When Blu Smith began his career as an artist, he was pointed in one direction but was surprised by what ultimately happened.
To put himself through art school in the late 1980’s-early 1990’s, Smith worked as a sign painter which gave him skills in the commercial art field. He carefully hand-lettered signs with a deft exactness allowing him to utilize skills he would need in his future work as a realist. He says, “I was somewhat of a technician about realistic art and wanted to see how good I could become at realism because it’s all about precision. This carried through in my work and I thought technically I was very good but I was lacking creativity and, as artists, we have to find our voice and I wasn’t finding that with realistic work.”
After art school, Smith didn’t have a clear direction but, “I knew I wanted to paint so I was going to start my own sign shop and I was quite happy about that,” he says. But as time passed something was missing, “I realized what I really wanted to do was my own work. As an experiment, I put canvases on the wall to loosen up and I never looked back. That was the genesis of finding my voice as an artist and tapping into myself. Because I had a hard time expressing myself with words and people, I could pinpoint emotions, dreams and that kind of internal thinking and present it in a visual way that people could actually see.” He found it fascinating that using a different plane of expression like art allowed him to transfer these emotions and dreams into a different form but still express them loud and clear.
His early pieces were rudimentary and reflective of where he was at the time, “A lot of the earliest work from my Evolution Series reflects my time working in the commercial industry designing logos for companies so it had a certain feel of an emblem image at the center of the canvas eventually evolving from there into what I’m doing today.”
Smith is a traditional painter with acrylic on canvas or acrylic on paper incorporating drawings done with charcoal, “I use different mediums to bring the painting up to a certain point then I try to figure out where the light source is going to be. All the design and interest happens on the canvas so I think while I work. I don’t plan in advance. The last thing I do is make sure that light blows and pops which allows the whole painting to sing and come together. It’s like a choir, all different parts melding together and it’s only when that happens that I know things are done.”
Light is integral to Smith’s art which sets him apart from other abstract artists, “With a lot of abstract paintings what separates mine from others is that I use a source of light as a back filling; it has a backlit sense and it gives my work that recognizable tangibility that people see and understand. With these pieces, you sense something familiar and recognizable and you’re comfortable which allows the viewer to take a closer look.”
Smith lives in Victoria, Canada and is surrounded by forest and amazing plays of natural light, “There’s a real sense of light flooding in with these pieces I’m doing along with organic shapes. The combination of these two elements is bridging the gap between the art and the viewer. I’m trying engage the viewer with little tricks with use of organic shapes and light that they can see.”
Currently, Smith is walking two paths artistically, “First, I’m still working at abstracts which come from an internal place, they aren’t externally sensory driven at all. These are my internal landscapes my dreams and thoughts. However, over the past three years I’ve realized I’m coming out of myself and am affected by the exterior either a specific time in my life or the new property where we live; the external is now affecting me in large ways.”
The second path Smith is developing is bridging aspects of the abstract into landscapes from his Wild Series of paintings, “These came at the right time when I was moving from within myself to outside of myself and incorporating how locations affect us. We live in a lush area of Vancouver that’s heavily treed with an incredible quality of light.” Smith is taking his 20 years of abstract work and transferring those rules onto a pretty traditional way of painting landscapes which results in, “Something fresh and new with use of color and being unafraid of the rules that are set with landscapes,” he says.
As for which of his portfolio series represents Smith best he says, “It all comes down to a time and place. Sleight of Hand represents me now and The Wild too. Eventually, these separate paths will merge and when that merging point is achieved, it will be pretty cool.”
Smith has a solo show starting on November 3, 2016 called “Rage, Rage Against the Dying of The Light” at the Avenue Gallery in Victoria. The title of the show is based on the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. Smith says, “This line in the poem basically tells an old man to rage and stay away from the light and live as long as you can. For me, that line represented what I do about capturing light and essence in my work. It’s a struggle to find that light while it lasts and perfect it so I bring that mental snapshot into my studio. It’s a struggle to find that perfect light and hold onto it.”