Featured Artist Scott Smith


Can you describe your studio practice? 

Leon Kossoff when asked to describe the paintings of Frank Auerbach talked about drawing as that thing which always engaged and drove Frank’s work. He then said something which remains strong in my mind everyday when I work. He said “Drawing is not a mysterious activity. Drawing is making an image which expresses commitment and involvement. This only comes about after seemingly endless activity before the model or subject, rejecting time and time again ideas which are possible to preconceive. And, whether by scraping off or by rubbing down, it is always beginning again, making new images, destroying images that lie, discarding images that are dead. The only true guide in this search is the special relationship the artist has with the person or landscape from which he is working. Finally, in spite of all this activity of absorption and internalisation the images emerge in an atmosphere of freedom.”

I could not say it any better than this and this thinking has been what connects most to my spirit of working. It creates an internal dialogue and asks me to confront the essential questions we all face of what to paint and how to paint it…This activity pushes one towards that state where art is made, where creation happens, that unconscious space of creativity and execution.  When correctly involved in this space I think something intelligent emerges, something alive, something surprising, but it takes work and it never ends.  

I start with drawing from observation. Working my way through the possibilities in the hopes of being surprised by something happening which I could not have started with. It’s simple and it’s not.  Having a set of constraints is helpful whether that be with materials or time or subject matter.  When working from observation one has to confront the facts as they reveal themselves and then look again, and that sets up certain standards and begs certain questions.  When working from imagination there’s a calling upon understandings of everything one has done before while being open to what that next step may reveal.  It’s daunting and rewarding.  It’s sustenance. 

Where are you from and how does this affect your work?

I’m originally from the state of Oregon and grew up in several small communities scattered around the state.  It was a quiet childhood and I was a quiet and shy child.  Since everything is connected in some ways I suspect my introverted personality informed the ways in which I looked at the world.  It wasn’t a critical kind of thinking and observing but rather a naive sort of wonder that happens in rural areas.  My sensibilities always responded positively to the outdoors and the special kind of light and air that was uniquely Oregon.  These sensibilities remain strong wherever I live and need to find their way into what I do and the way I live.  The sensations of mass, movement, light and space are visceral, they make sense to me, and I’m sure my time just quietly looking and moving about as a kid informed this sensibility. 

Where do you live now and how does that affect your work?

Well that’s tough to answer and I’m trying to figure it all out.  It’s not a positive place and with that comes issues of trying to be constructive and surprised and productive.  At least I now live near a major regional museum and find myself almost daily roaming the space and sitting in front of anything new which somehow strikes me as something I’ve not seen before.  It’s good to incorporate work in the studio with roaming in front of other work and finding connections and affirmations.  So my understanding of the language of art making is expanding, which is good.

What and who are your influences? 

There are so many.  The Renaissance masters are important to me…Morandi has always been important…Auerbach and his friends….Matisse and Giacometti and that era…American painters and teachers, too many to list….It’s always someone who hits me and then it’s having to shake them off.

I always fall back on the thought that there are two sources of art, Nature and other Art.  That’s a big resource but there’s always something right in front of me to offer assistance, an opportunity to rethink things based on my understanding or lack of.  Both are always surprising and alive and interesting.  Both have structures which allow for change, and demand it, so I follow, as much as I’m capable of, what my eye and mind might discover from the seemingly disparate forces involved within those two realms.  I’m grateful for both.

Where do you see your work sitting in relation to abstract and figurative work? 

It’s all abstract to me.  If a painting is working it’s because there’s an abstract structure holding things together, keeping it alive.  Clearly, one would look at my images and say I’m a figurative painter, some would say a realist, but I don’t know what that means.  A painter is a painter and the questions are the same…Is it working? Are the paintings good?  


I initially finished college with a degree in Finance but later discovered painting and art and returned to get my B.F.A. from the University of Oregon and then my M.F.A. in painting  from Cornell University.  During this time I  also spent important summer stints  at the Yale Summer School of Music and Art in Norfolk and the Queens College Summer Landscape Program at Caumsett.   It was a quick four years of immersion into a whole new world.


Yes, I taught for several years as an adjunct at a few different colleges which was an enjoyable experience to share something I was excited about on so many different levels.

Do you have a place you’re trying to move to in your work?

Well, I don’t really know where I’m going with my work but I do feel, at times, like it’d be nice to get there quicker.  But the wonderful thing about art is you can never stay there.  If one has any sensibility at all one needs to address the issue change and growth and somehow put that into the work. I think if one does that honestly the work will take care of itself and maybe others will be interested in looking at it, too.     

To be a bit redundant, and it sounds simple and obvious, but I’m trying to keep myself interested and engaged. It’s a moving target, a constant journey.  I will say it’s necessary for me to better understand my own language and rules.  By that I mean that whatever the subject matter the means of expressing it are formal and I’ve a ways to go before feeling I’ve an adequate command and confidence in that regard.