It's okay if you don't know the age, race or gender of the artist T. Smith. Actually, that's the plan. "I want it to be all about the work," the artist tells us. "When someone sees one of my paintings, I want the only thing influencing their interpretation or opinion of it to be on the [canvas]. I don't hide or anything; I go to my gallery shows and people know me but if the only thing you know about the person who painted something is the name T. Smith, that almost forces you to look only at the work."
Knowing an artist by their work, rather than by their face is refreshing in today's world of branding and instant (if not constant) communication between artists and their followers.
Smith has made a practice of rejecting social conventions, including the idea that artists are never successful until after they are dead. It's a refrain the artist hears often. Smith's response: "[That's] a myth from cultural conditioning ... being an artist is the world's true documented oldest profession!"
What Do You Do: "I'm a painter. And I'm also a photographer. Everything you see in my paintings was first a photograph. I have something like 20,000 photographs. When I want to do a new painting, I take a photograph I like and find its mate -- its visual mate, not narrative. So everything you see, I saw, took a picture of it and then made it into a painting."
We point to a painting of a castle seeming to float in the sky. "You saw a castle floating in the sky?" we ask. (See A Palace and Prison below.)
"No, I saw a castle. It's from an old putt-putt on 610. I would drive by it every day and when they closed it I went in and took a bunch of pictures, including one of a castle. The background in the painting, that comes from a picture I took of the Police Officers Memorial. I turned it on its side and it became the background."
Smith's latest project is a series based on photographs of mannequins. There are some 15 mannequins in different poses shown in 11 paintings.
Why Do You Like It: "The part of the process that I like the most is putting the elements together. I had been searching for a long time for something to put with a slice of cake. It was a cake I took a picture of in a restaurant. When I finally found what to put with it, that was an exciting moment."
Smith admits that it's difficult to find the end of some paintings. "It's hard to find that final stroke, to decide when it's done. Sometimes I just have to tell myself, 'Stop! Leave it alone!'
What Inspires You: "My primary interest is lines, shapes. I like visual opposition. I know some people will say, 'Why do you have so many pictures of the same tree?' It's the same tree, but it's not the same picture. Each one is different, even if only slightly."
If Not This, Then What: "Actually, there's nothing else that I want to do. I worked in the business world and eventually just walked away from it. I'm an artist. I owe it to myself to do what makes me happy. And I owe it to the paintings, too," Smith laughs. "They need to be done so that they can go out in the world and do their job -- which is to provoke a reaction, good or bad."
If Not Here, Then Where: "I think Houston's a very easy place to live in, it's very affordable and there's a large artist community here. I'd always like to have Houston as my home base but I do like to travel. I'd like to spend some time in Berlin. There's a great art scene there and I'd like to experience that for a while."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
What's Next: "I have an exhibit coming up called "The Waiting Room." That's coming up later this month. After that, more painting, more work but right now I just want to finish [The Waiting Room series] and get that show up."
See T. Smith's "The Waiting Room" 7 to 10 p.m. on May 9 at JoMar Visions, Hardy & Nance Studios, 902 Hardy St. For information, visit the artist's website.
More Creatives for 2014 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Lindsay Finnen, photographerKaitlyn Stanley, tattoo artist Eleazar Galindo Navarro, video game maker Kate de Para, textile and clothing designer Shawn Swanner, video game painter Andy Gonzales, painter Chris Foreman, comic book sketcher Theresa DiMenno, photographer Jessica E. Jones, opera singer Atseko Factor, actor John Pluecker, writer, poet and language justice worker Ricky Ortiz, painter, tattoo artist Rabēa Ballin, artist David Wald, actor Lisa E. Harris, performing and visual artist Stephanie Todd Wong, executive director of Dance Source Houston Pamela Fagan Hutchins, novelist Heather Gordy, artist Mark Nasso, comic artist Shelbi-Nicole, artist Marian Szczepanski, novelist Jonathan Blake, fashion designer Doni Langlois, interior designer Kat Denson, dancer Blame the Comic, comedian Margaret Menchaca Alvarez, artist Jacquelyne Jay Boe, dancer Rene Fernandez, painter Teresa Chapman, choreographer and dancer