Courtesy of Richard Lee Smith, Jr.
At the age of 23, artist Richard Lee Smith, Jr. got the news that no one ever wants to get. Diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had less than a year to live. After having a dream in which he had a vision of himself as an old man, he knew that he was going to be okay. Although his parents thought he was in denial and urged him to get special help, Smith held firmly to his believes. With his third diagnoses, he got much better news – he had a better chance of living a longer life.
In a recent one-on-one interview he recounted, “I remember being in the doctor’s office with my family. The doctor came in to give us the good news. My family began to jump around the room celebrating, while I was just sitting there. Then the doctor turned to me to ask me why I wasn’t celebrating. My mom put her hand over her mouth said, “Oh my god, he’s been telling us this for months.” It was a pivotal point indeed.”
The moment led him on a spiritual path that has included doing Native American vision quests, work with healers and shamans and juice cleansing on a regular basis. And it has also greatly influenced his art. “My work is coming from that same healing place and has the same clearing power,” Smith explained. “I feel my art radiates clearing vibrations”
Smith had started drawing and painting at an early age. He attended Arts Magnet High School in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, and moved to California to attend the San Francisco Art Institute. He described how his technique has developed “by drawing and painting constantly — drawing and painting until it became second nature, then first nature. I had a desire to find something true that came from within me, so, instead of taking notes during class, I sketched. My technique came from my drawing — simple shapes, lines, circles, arrows, mark making. And, those movements transferred to my painting, flowing out effortlessly.”
Courtesy of Richard Lee Smith, Jr.
He describes his work as abstraction choosing “colors from the happier side of the spectrum” which convey feelings of joy. He uses layers and layers of paint, mark making with simple shapes and lines. He says his creations are “like modern cave paintings — channeling energies, movement and vibrations.”
He finds influence in artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He expounded on why their work resonates with him, “It's their colors, their mark making and bold expression… As a young painting teenager seeing Basquiat blew my mind. One day in high school my painting teacher told the class that we were going on a field trip. He didn’t really tell us what or where we were going. He walked us down the street to the Dallas Museum of Art, where a gallery-sized room was full of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings. My world was rocked that day.”
He recounted how that experience shifted his own style, “Up until that point I had been painting realistically. There was also a little video interview with him. I think at one point he was eating French fries and talking with his mouth full, so you couldn’t really understand what he was saying. I was mesmerized by him. After we went back to school that afternoon, I did my first abstract painting and have been painting abstract ever since.”
Not all of Smith’s work is abstract. He also is a nature photographer. He acknowledged that this other creative outlet “gets me out in nature where the energy is pure, and that pure energy is the place from which I paint.” His photography started as something he did strictly for himself. But after posting the photos on Instagram, he started getting requests to do a photo exhibit. Yet Smith admitted, “I never considered myself a ‘photographer.’ I think my painting has more of an influence on how I make my photographs though. I make single prints of my photos and frame them in unique found frames. So, they become single unique pieces of art like my paintings and drawings.”
These days, Smith has decided to combine all of his artistic disciplines for one exhibit. He’s currently working on several large canvases, drawings and photographs for an upcoming pop-up show this May. “It's going to be in a 100-year old restored barn here in Topanga Canyon, California,” he said of the sprint event. “We’re going to turn it into a gallery for the night. I met this guy during my first and only photography show here in Topanga Canyon. He liked my work, and bought one of my pieces and we pretty much hit it off and started planning this show in his barn right then, two years ago. This will be the first time I'm showing my photos and paintings together. I’m so excited about the show.”
To learn more about Richard Lee Smith, Jr.’s work visit his website.