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Just Below the Surface: Blu Smith Dives Between Abstract and Expressive Painting

Courtesy of Blu Smith

Artist Blu Smith is a born and bred Canadian who, at the age of 21, moved to the picturesque locale of Victoria on Vancouver Island. After a two-year diploma program at Okanagan College, Smith continued his studies at the University of Victoria. While he focused on a Fine Arts degree in school, he worked at a local sign shop during the day. “I was able to learn a lot about layout and design and did a lot of logo work, worked very large with a lot of these very big signs,” recounted Smith. “That molded me for a time anyways.” Smith realized he was honing very specific expertise, “Your technical skill had to be really spot on. I really developed that skill for realism and just really being technically proficient with my stuff.” But he also realized there were elements of his artistry that had fallen by the wayside. Smith conceded, “The problem was that I found after a certain length of time that I had lost all the creativity out of my art. It had become more of a technical skill more than anything.” He found himself at a crossroads in the mid to late ‘90s. “I had to sit down and ask myself some serious questions about who I am and what I had to say as an artist. And to be quite honest, I didn’t have any answers,” admitted Smith. “It was time to make some serious changes.” He suddenly was drawn to the discipline that was very different from the more mechanical process involved in sign making. "I abandoned everything that I had known before and I went in the complete opposite direction and started doing non-representational abstract painting.” Smith is the first to confess that he was heavily anti-abstract art while he was in school so the choice even surprised him. “For me to end up being an abstract artist was quite interesting. “ So he was studying an entirely new artistic style. Smith remarked, “I went out and started from the very beginning and had to learn the whole thing — learn the language, right from simple shapes and simple brush marks to years later doing more complex designs and interesting work.” But Smith took his time and let the process unfold organically over time. “The work would build off of itself. So, the designs that I was doing 20 years ago, slowly evolved, slowly built, slowly changed and morphed from painting to painting over a long period of time to really what some of the abstract pieces that I’m doing today. I can see the lineage back to where I started with it, which is quite interesting.” So why would someone who so voraciously spoke out against abstract art turn his focus in that direction? “I was never one of these young men who was a big communicator,” noted Smith. “I always had a hard time really expressing myself and saying what it was that was on my mind or what I was thinking or feeling at the time. So, for me, finding something to say was a tough thing as an artist. But what I did find with abstract is that I was able to express a lot of stuff on the canvas and on the paper without having to be literal about it. It was really a non-literal medium so it really fit me well. I was able to get the angst, the energies, the power, everything that I was feeling at the time to get that out on the canvas without it being something literal. It really turned into a great fit for me.” In fact, Smith has become so comfortable expressing himself through abstract art that his work has been referred to as an “augmented view of a personal portrayal, like a diary.” Smith explained what this means, saying, “It’s always in code, right? That’s the whole beauty about abstract work. It’s one of these things that’s in between the process of actually feeling and thinking in words. So, what I’m painting at the time is sort of that great in between place. It’s in between the feeling and the actual putting stuff in to words. So, when I say it’s in code, it hasn’t formulated words yet. So, really what it comes down to is, expression for me is done through a number of ways whether it would be color combinations or the vibrancy of the brush stroke or the power in the painting. That’s where I really get my point across with what it is that I’m thinking or feeling at the time.”

Courtesy of Blu Smith

But in recent years, Smith has decided to turn his artistic lens outward as well. “For the last 20 years, I’ve found inspiration from within. Looking within myself and developing what it was and designs and the shapes and the complex designs of the canvas were drawn from within. The older I got, getting married, having a family, you start to change in life. And, I started wanting to look more and draw from my environment, from where I’m from and the beauty of my surroundings.” He continued, “So, over the course of probably the last year and a half, two years, I’ve really started to switch from that internal to the external and allowing my environment and what is effecting me into my art. So, I’ve started doing some of these abstracted landscapes that are based off of where I live in Vancouver Island. And, I think the beauty of those are having this 20 years of nothing but abstract background, non-representational abstract background and applying that to something like traditional landscapes. I think it’s really sort of given a fresh approach to somewhat of a traditional way of doing things.”

Smith will be showing both his abstracted landscapes and his pure abstract paintings in a solo show on November 3rd at The Avenue Gallery. For more details visit his website.

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