Ty Smith is a painter's painter. His passion is to uncover the mysteries of painting that artists have long been integrating into their canvases.
"If I were to give myself a criticism," he said, "it might be that I spend too much time thinking about painting. Maybe I should read novels or watch movies instead."
True to his word, his studio possesses very little that would distract anyone from the room's primary purpose of painting. In addition to an impressive collection of art books, his studio is filled with enormous oil paintings, small watercolors and charcoal drawings. Since graduating from the University of Tulsa with a Master's of Fine Arts in 2009, Smith's work has been chosen to be a part of three separate juried shows in New York City as well as exihibitions at the University of Texas and Tyler and in his home state of Alabama.
Smith's work will be on display in Tulsa at Aberson Exhibits beginning July 19, though. His work is part of a group show featuring the work of artists: Aileen Chong, Brian Dehart, Jim Polan, Gary Reddick and Michelle Williams. An artist reception will be held July 28 from 6-8pm.
Smith entered the University of Tulsa's MFA program in 2006 and since graduating has begun working as an adjunct faculty member there teaching drawing and design.
"Going to TU was the best thing that ever happened to my work," Smith said. In addition to having ample studio time for making discoveries on the canvas, Smith was able to develop close relationships with many highly celebrated artists who came to TU through the school's visiting artist program.
The most significant experience he had while a master's student was spending two months in upstate New York during the summer at the Chautauqua School of Art. At Chautauqua, he was able to completely immerse himself in art, painting from 8am to midnight each day. When he returned to TU for his final year, his work began to change considerably.
He began using a different kind of paint that was leaner and more suitable to building a painting through layers of washes. He no longer felt compelled to begin a painting by applying heavy layers of paint but instead let the painting build gradually allowing him the flexibility to edit quicker and more effectively.
While thinking about his work he said, "I still don't know what I'm really after ... but maybe that is what painting's about, discovering what you're after." Smith works almost exclusively as an abstract painter, and while he looks to nature, the figure and figurative artists for inspiration, the interpretation of his observations translate into abstract pieces that are truly original.
He begins his large paintings with a piece of charcoal attached to the end of a long stick. He uses charcoal to make the first marks on the canvas using the stick to distance himself from the surface so he can take it in all at once. "I paint very intuitively and don't plan out my actions before I begin," Smith said.
He said that he begins by making marks that divide the surface and give him something to respond to. From there, he begins to use subtle washes of paint and an editing eye to transform the white canvas into a highly developed painting.
Recently, his works have been created from a light palette drawing inspiration from the subtle sense of layers and undulating colors that exist in the sky. "I have been using white recently as a tool to manipulate the relationship between colors. I like it because it isn't a heavy commitment." He went on to describe his process by explaining that he builds non-descript images on the surface so the viewer can find a suggested presence, then uses white paint, rags or the scraping of a palette knife to remove or cover the surface leaving nothing overly exposed.
"Bonnard and Richard Diebenkorn were the first artists I looked at who made me want to be a painter," he said. Since then, he has also become heavily inspired by the work of Mark Rothko, Alberto Giacometti and Brice Marden.
"I've been trying to distance myself from them though," he said. "I need to make my own work, and I don't want to become too influenced by them."
Smith said that when he looks at a painting, he judges it based on its integrity. "When a painting is done honestly, it is more genuine and makes a stronger impact," he said. "It is easy to be an artist today, but it is not easy to be someone who makes interesting paintings."
He went on to say that he does not believe that artists are any more important than any other profession. "I think Balthus said, 'I am not an artist, I am an artisan.' That is how I feel about myself as well." He said he wants to wake up each morning and begin working. His work just happens to be making paintings instead of working in an office or making people coffee.
It is perhaps his unpretentious attitude that makes Ty Smith's work such a refreshing mixture of talent and respect for painting. He appreciates the act of applying paint to a canvas in its purest form and does not feel compelled to invite technology or current artistic trends into his work. From his small watercolors to his sizable oil paintings, his work is truly a genuine expression of an artist working to leave his mark on the contemporary art world.
More information about Smith's work is available about tysmithart.com or abersonexhibits.com.
This month's Third Thursday at the Philbrook invites visitors to learn about the work of contemporary sustainable artist, Fritz Haeg.
Through his project entitled "Edible Estates," Haeg transformed home owners' front lawns into vegetable gardens. The event takes place on July 15 beginning at 5:30pm, where visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy a drink from the cash bar and tour the Philbrook's vegetable garden created in partnership with the Community Food Bank.
At 6:30pm, Haeg will speak about his work and answer questions in the auditorium. More information is available at philbrook.org.
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