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Theoplis Smith: Iconic Color
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
Without academic training, many professions contain structural barriers barring someone from advancing their practice into a career. Most artists are thankful that this is not necessarily the case within the arts, and many reputable areas of creative industries still operate under the rule of merit over education when that merit is well above average.
Theoplis Smith III is one of those artists who only recently began considering himself a professional artist, and has found incredible success in a short period of time due to his talent and hard work. Smith's brand of gestural, layered painted constructions have taken both figurative and abstract forms, but both carry his unique sense of color and application of paint. Smith's vocabulary is informed from the assimilation of visuals over the years, but no comprehensive study of painting techniques, master painters, or the standard methods for breaking the rules. This innocence to the history of painting and the history of its opposition imbues the images Smith creates with a fresh and energizing feeling. His understanding of the interaction between the paint and the painted surface are just as innocent as he regularly paints on found objects including vinyl, gatorboard, and cardboard.
Theoplis Smith was born in St. Louis, Missouri, moved to Fort Wayne and attended Taylor's now gone Fort Wayne campus. Currently working a day job while pursuing his art, Smith has been growing an intensely loyal and increasingly national fan-base for his work. This work has been going through a great deal of growth recently as he doubles his efforts to make art into a career. Most of Smith's early work explored intense and diverse color in the figure, focusing on friends and family, existing in either limitless color fields or constructed environments, painted in to become complete scenes. Out of these early bodies of work, Smith builds his figure literally with each brushstroke, each used as a facet and plane to the form of his subjects. This early work also plays a great deal with color theory, where Smith lays vibrant cool tones on top of deep warm tones creating opposing push-pull effects that trigger a small wince in the viewers eye.
Additionally, Smith developed his incredibly subtle and distinctive color sense by finding traditionally non-complimentary colors and using them effectively to catch the viewers eye and force a secondary conceptual check prior to moving on through the image, forcing them to absorb it more fully. Interestingly enough, Smith's next body of work is essentially stripped completely of the intricacies of color, but is just as precisely carried through the application of paint in his three tone "Icon Series" portraits.
The "Icon Series" is a collection of 28 images of black history icons painted over the month of February, 2013.
These portraits include some of the most famous American celebrities and political figures, including Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, Jean Michel Basquiat, Malcolm X, Bill Cosby, and Frederick Douglas among many others. These portraits are all painted with black and white paint on thick cardboard that Smith found at his day job. The three tones build up highlights, shadows, and skin tones in different ways depending on the portrait. Some are painted more frenetically with slashes, splashes, resulting drips, and smears of nearly dried paint until it came to its final resting place. Other images are more delicate — the image of Coretta Scott King for example, is masterfully carved out with the delicate use of black paint to create the majority of her facial features and the contour of her face, leaving the flat tone, but textured, brown of the cardboard as her skin tone, and the rest of her figure highlighted by white and the more filled in image of MLK Jr. in the upper left corner. This composition is not something that can be taught in school. Smith's abilities are further punctuated by the speed in which he composes these images, sometimes being made as quickly as an hour or two.
Interestingly, the "Icon Series" has includes such formal aspects as Smith spinning some of the images around, painting them in multiple orientations, as well as an increase in Smith's conceptual development, with the inclusion of historical connections between icons, the deliberate choice or disregard for iconic images of these notable people, and the inclusion of contextual details. Most fruitful, the portrait of Jean Michel Basquiat includes incredibly beautiful painterly constructions of his boxing gloves, signifying the time late in his short career as he collaborated with Warhol, and Smith includes a somewhat faint SAMO crown above his head, hovering like a halo above this lost figure.
The "Icon Series" has also been a point of departure for Smith to gain more popularity, both locally and nationally — his paintings and works on paper have caught the attention of such notables as rapper and mogul Sean "P Diddy" Combs, and the newer and intensely talented singer Janelle Monae. With this kind of attention at such an early stage in his career, all signs seem to be pointing in Smith's direction as far as his ability to turn this into a sustainable career. Thankfully, Smith's talent was not squandered by a system demanding a highly specific and structured form of education and training.
For More Information:
You can view more of Theoplis Smith's work by following his social media.
Facebook: Phresh Laundry