Mark T Smith
Born in Wilmington, Delaware he moved to New York City in the mid-eighties to study at Pratt Institute – Brooklyn. After matriculating from Pratt he made New York City his home until June 2004 when he relocated to Miami.While living in New York City, Smith made his living as an iconoclastic artist known for his highly recognizable paintings. Corporate patronage helped Smith become an increasingly recognizable figure in the crowded New York City art world, and his patrons included the likes of MTV, Pepsi, AT&T, Budweiser, VH-1, Walt Disney Co, and many more. The distinctiveness of Smith’s work culminated in the national Absolut Vodka campaign in 1996, entitled “Absolut Smith”. His artwork is has been displayed in the U.S. and abroad, including all the major contemporary art fairs. The works have been seen in major motion pictures and in global campaigns such as the poster design commissioned by the United States Olympic Team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Smith has been involved with the academic community for the majority of his career. He first started teaching at Parsons School of Design in New York City in the early 1990’s and enjoyed an eleven-year tenure at the school. He also was an instructor at Pratt, his alma mater, in the Communication Design department for two years. Over the years he has taught and lectured at several other institutions including over 5 years at the Miami Ad School, and lectured at many other institutions including; University of the Arts, University of Delaware, Cleveland Institute of Art, Altos De Chavon, and SCAD. When Smith is not working he likes to indulge his interests in 1960’s vintage American muscle cars, senseless adventures, and sailing. Artist Statement Mark T Smith’s artwork embraces the classic skills of drawing and painting with the balance of a modern mindset. The artist has a primary interest in the tactile experience of making beautiful expressions in the traditional forms of drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture. Throughout his career, he has carefully sought out opportunities to display and apply artwork in a manner that will reach as many people as possible, while maintaining tight control on the quality and content of the artwork. He has spent his career participating in a small but influential circle of galleries, art fairs and museums. Mark T. Smith believes that artwork’s primary function is to ennoble the public, which means it must be connected to and integrated into our daily lives. Without applications that create understanding and implant the desire to have the Arts as a permanent partner in our everyday experience of life, he feels Art will lose its purpose. This presentation of his artwork is an overview from a variety of different series. The work manifests itself in diagrams, notes, maps, drawings and paintings. Many of the works selected for this website contains imagery about transitions and journeys. It is rare when we have the luxury of time or presence of mind to reflect on a journey prior to embarking on it, which much of Smith’s work examines — from the journey of self-discovery to the journey into the realm of religious archetype and insight. Smith continues to develop his personal visual language, working in a dizzying array of two-dimensional media, including works on paper, canvas, found objects and wood. The artist also has an affinity for linoleum block printing and started working in sculptural media in 2008 . His approach to the creation of work is traditional, starting with observation, then drawings, then revised drawings, works on paper and then on to larger works on canvas, linen and paper, then finally to three dimensional media. “No matter how well an artist is integrated to the society at large, the artist cannot help but stand apart from the larger culture; it is simply the nature of the artist to observe and to see the world in a manner that others do not. For instance, the William Blake / Inferno series was an important subject matter for me at this time because of the subject’s flexibility in tackling cultural issues with a more universal tone. After spending a great deal of time in Washington DC and observing the ruling class of the United States in close proximity, it became apparent that the text of the Inferno would always ring true, for the sins of the past are the sins of the present and of the future. This series was also important for me as an artist because it allows a more direct comparison of my artwork to artwork created in the great time line of human visual expression. This will allow the viewer another access point to understanding the nature, context and content of my artwork.”
Drawing. This is where every idea, project, thought, or expression starts for me. Drawing is the most direct, raw manner to present an idea. It can contain the simplest or most complex ideas. It can take the viewer on a direct or indirect journey; it can be a map to a destination or the destination itself. Drawing for me is as natural as breathing, as joyful and satisfying as sex, as mysterious as love and as transcendent as faith. For each commission’s subject matter that I approach, I always start with a drawing.
The drawing starts in two forms. First I create a ”map” of the concept or content. This becomes a list of what the image will include and how those individual assets will interplay in the larger composition. This map is not normally something that I show to clients, its primary mission in the studio is to focus the research into one location and to make certain that I have satisfied the parameters of the commission. The second part of the drawing stage is the working sketch(s). This drawing is generally a contour line drawing that exhibits the content and composition of the final artwork. This piece is the presentation sketch that clients will be shown for approval. It contains every detail that will appear in the final artwork.
The final execution. Now the artwork leaps to the life. The images, contours and content are intricately part of the artist in a completely intuitive way. The drawings line the studio walls, inspiration and hard work mixed into an intoxicating blend, they guide the artist’s hand, seen but unseen. The product of all this becomes the paintings and sculptures. Now the palettes, forms and concepts grow increasing complex. Now the artwork starts to take a deeper more realized form. Now the ideas are not longer confined to a cocktail napkin or a small piece of paper, now they are large objects that take and hold ground. Now they are a vision realized. Whether the final artwork is a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, the original approved drawing will contain everything that is in the final piece.
In terms of technique, I follow two distinctly different means to a similar end. These two directions always veer apart at the very start of a series. The division falls between the known and the unknown. I either know the final form I seek, in the painting, drawing, print or sculpture, or I do not. The known has a beginning, middle and an end. The known “comes” to me in a complete state. It is a complete thought and the process becomes a vehicle to its reality. The unknown leads my hand to follow an abstract pathway. I start with nothing, a blank slate and begin with a field of abstract colors, application of paint, a mark on the page – it is a “Big bang” approach to creation. This side of the approach is filled with danger, filled with choices at every turn, by happy accidents and complete failures that yield insight. Within each of these pathways there are smaller pathways that lead back and forth between the known and unknown. These bridges between conscious and unconscious become a unifying force for the vast majority of my artwork. In an artwork that has a specific communication as its stated purpose, the unknown is vetted and resolved in the sketch stage, long before the client sees even the first sketch.