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Local artist visits high school

Local artist Anthony Smith Jr. held an artist talk for Whitehall High School students and the public March 1.

Smith received his Bachelor of Arts in fine art from Amherst College and his Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from the University of Michigan. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Princeton University, Maryland Institute College of Art and most recently Northampton Community College.

His series of six works, “Black Sheep Family,” has not yet been shown anywhere except the Zephyr Art Gallery. The pieces reflect how his family felt like pariahs after their move from Dallas to Tampa. Further, in the legend of “The Sword of Damocles,” Damocles has a sword dangling above his head from a horse hair that could break at any moment. This is usually an allusion to imminent and ever-present peril to those in positions of power.

Smith said the pieces have two messages going on at once: his family only had each other and there was always a threat of something bad happening.

Smith also dabbles in abstract narrative paintings and landscapes. Abstract narrative is a term Smith coined to describe his interest in storytelling using texture, pattern and color. Many of Smith’s works have the same kind of beginning, yet end up differently than he intended. To that end, he describes himself as “very much of a process artist.”

His abstract paintings typically feature cedar shingles and kozo paper, a Japanese-style washi paper. Smith finished his graduate degree in Kyoto, where he learned to make and fell in love with the durability of the kozo paper. Smith’s first pieces with the cedar shingles (after eying them up at Home Depot for years) worked to denature racist tropes. That trio of pieces, titled “Matthew Likes Darkies Best,” set Smith on a mission to use his abstract narrative paintings as commentary on various social justice issues.

Smith recently got back from a visit to Senegal and is in the process of creating a series of 18 works based on his trip.

PRESS PHOTOS BY CHRISTINA SANTO A closeup of one of local artist Anthony Smith Jr.'s abstract narrative pieces shows how much detail and layering is in each piece. One of these pieces can take him two or three months to finish, he said, during an artist talk at Whitehall High School March 1.
Six of the seven pieces in Smith's series “Black Sheep Family” are on display in the Zephyr Art Gallery throughout January and February.
This piece is called “When Ken-Ken Smiled Sweetly at Me.” It is based around Smith's grown version of his first boyhood crush.
Four of the “Black Sheep Family” pieces can be seen closer here, featuring his niece, nephew and sister.