Andrew Smith has a lot to say—not only is he willing to discuss the politics of attempting to make a career as an artist, but he will also animatedly chat at length about his passion for speed racing on his bike and the finer points of heavy metal music. Born and raised in Hood River, Andrew has recently moved to Portland for a full-time job at a bike shop and the chance gain greater exposure as an artist. I met with him recently at his favorite watering hole in Southeast Portland for an update on the career trajectory of this twenty-three year old and his perspective on the current state of creative life in the Gorge.
AG: When do first remember experiencing a drive to paint or create art?
AS: My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Gilbertson, recognized my creativity and encouraged me to pursue drawing…I think that this recognition gave me the confidence to delve into it [drawing] further.
Wow…I bet she would be so happy to hear that. When did you begin to show your work publicly?
I was actually commissioned to paint animal portraits—of people’s pets—before I had much public exposure. My first show was a collection of these portraits!
Not many artists display commissioned art at their first show…do you feel that your painting style has evolved since then?
I have become more aware of the difference that the right tools can make…I now notice a huge difference in paint quality; I constantly experiment with my technique.
Tell me about your technique—what is your process?
[Andrew’s eyes light up behind his glasses and he begins to talk rapidly with his hands]
My technique can best be described as photo-realism. I select subjects from photographs and then paint them—not with the aid of computer programs—but free-handed. My biggest challenge so far has been two 50”x50” canvases that I mounted on a wall and painted from a photo image—that was a totally new experiment in spatial perception.
Speaking of your subjects, the most consistently striking thing about each of them is their eyes…they all seem to be staring back at the onlooker, creating a sense of intimacy. Do you tend to choose subjects that are an intimate part of your own life?
Definitely. While not necessarily true for the animals, the human subjects that I paint are people that I know and generally admire…often I attempt to capture them with a sense of humor. I tend to choose my subjects based on my collection of photos: the person must be someone that I am close with and the photo must have a certain composition.
Okay—I have to ask: who are some other artists that influence or inspire you?
Most of my favorite artists are also photo realists from the 1970s to present [this movement was a revolt against the nebulous qualities of the abstract expressionists.] Those who first come to mind are Ralph Goings and Chuck Close; I also really admire the work of Matthew Barney, Paul McCarthy, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst.
What other qualities or concepts inspire your work?
I’ve been thinking lately about the contrast of colors in hospital rooms—the brightly colored tubes and vials against the bleakness of a mint-green room; really messy rooms also captivate me…the colors of disarray; and I’ve always been fascinated with the horizon…with the idea that it is so finite and yet so infinite at the same time. I have this idea about giving the horizon a voyeuristic quality, about depicting an image—of suburbia, maybe—from the perspective of the horizon. It’s hard to explain…
You’ll have to show us. Now, I’d like to know your perspective on the art scene in the Gorge: have you witnessed an evolution during your lifetime…where do you see it headed?
There has definitely been an increase in cultural activity over the past several years…there are so many talented artists in the Gorge; however, there are certain genres that are very popular here and I would like to see a continual pushing away from familiar boundaries towards work that is edgy and fresh.
How do think that this can be accomplished?
It might be interesting to occasionally encourage artists from other regions to showcase their work in Hood River in order to incorporate more of global perspective on what is current in the art world. Also, continuing to include young artists in gallery shows—they are the future of the art scene here.
Very true. What are your personal long term goals as an artist?
When I was in art school, we were told that only three of every one hundred aspiring artists will be able to make a living through their art—my goal is to be one of those three. I am about to start working on a 6’ tall canvas of my sister and I as children on Halloween…the painting will illustrate an extremely high level of detail—taken from an original print.
Any chance that we’ll be seeing more of your work in the Hood River area?
Oh yeah…I think it would be a good experience for me to move out of state for a little while, but I hope to always have an artistic presence in the Gorge.
So do I, Andrew.