Portland artist Arvie Smith paints beautifully, with luscious glowing color and fluid brushwork. His large, ambitious canvases reveal a baroque sensibility. His adept use of flowing line and animated figurative compositions appear to draw inspiration from artists like Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Less romantic and more stridently political, Smith’s subject matter is drawn directly from his African American roots. The artist was born in 1938—when he was growing up he was colored, not black; Aunt Jemima was proudly emblazoned on pancake packages; and Shirley Temple was tap-dancing with Bojangles (Bill Robinson). In the 1960s there were riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles where he had lived, and when he lived in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury there were hippies and the dawning of “diversity.” Smith’s paintings mine a lifetime of change to debunk negative stereotypes. The paintings are brilliantly tough, ironically sexy, and illustrate shocking depictions of lynching and Ku Klux Klan persecution—all with a brilliantly sensuous, masterful touch.
APEX is an ongoing series of exhibitions of Northwest-based artists, curated by Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art. The APEX series is supported in part by The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Endowments for Northwest Art and The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.