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A Studio Visit with Artist Bruce Smith

A Studio Visit with Artist Bruce Smith

 

You may or may not have heard his name, but if you are familiar with our artists, you probably have seen his influence. Bruce Hixson Smith is an emeritus Professor of Art at Brigham Young University and has held a tremendous role in developing the work of established and respected artists such as Brian Kershisnik, J. Kirk Richards, Peter Everett, and Sarah Richards Samuelson to name a few. Kershisnik says of Bruce Smith, "He was a brilliant teacher to bring out what I do rather than to just teach what he does." He was awarded the prestigious Utah Governor’s Mansion Artist Award this year in Visual Arts . Smith retired from his teaching career in 2006 and lives with his wife Mary in Springville where he continues a rigorous studio practice.

We visited their beautiful home and studio on a recent October afternoon and spoke with Bruce about everything from Italian renaissance painters to his process as an artist. They worked with an architect to design their home from start to finish, and it gracefully sits between a garden and a small forest and pond in the suburbs of Springville. Bruce and Mary have a standard black poodle aptly named Matisse and a small pond in the back of their house with a duck. “It’s really a dumb duck,” says Smith. “It’s an Indian Runner which is supposed to be quite an intelligent species, but it’s not very smart at all.” He is observant and sincere, that Bruce Smith. 

Smith has a large series of work that consists of stunningly rendered paintings where items such as preserved fruits, statues, furniture, and clothing are put together in conversation with one another on the same canvas. An excellent draughtsman, these paintings have a deep connection to the European still-life tradition and yet there is a contemporary freshness in them where you see the expressiveness of the brush challenge his photorealistic elements in a very painterly and expressionistic manner, moreover you can see minimalism’s influence and the deliberate stripping away of unnecessary information. Old meets new in his work and to see these pieces in person is to see a dialogue between art worlds of past and present.

Our favorite flora painter Sarah Richards Samuelson remembers his painting influence at the school fondly, "I love his chair paintings so very much! They are really so exquisite, the textures and beautiful colors and shapes, of all the paintings I ever saw at BYU, they are some of the very most memorable and actually he is the reason that I paint on tempered Masonite." Sarah also notes of his kindness and interest in his students work, "I was so ensnared with his work...and he took time to entertain my questions even though I wasn't his student...A couple of years ago when I had a solo show in the Springville Museum, he came to the opening [and] it was gratifying to have him take interest in my art."

And there is yet another very different series of work of Bruce Hixson Smith’s work that depicts Biblical stories. One of our favorite paintings in this group of Smith’s work is “Nativity” and we have this piece available just in time for the Christmas season as a signed limited edition high quality print in our print gallery.

We talked in detail about his process with these Biblical paintings. “I use tracing paper as a way of hunting for the exact pose and expression I want for the image. I trace the same face over and over again until it sits right with me,” said Bruce on how he composes his pieces. Right now he is hard at work on constructing a painting about the Raising of Lazarus. As he describes the different characters in this scene, they seem to have minds of their own. “I used to think she was frightened,” says Smith pointing to a woman who he drew next to Lazarus’ miraculous resurrection, “but now I realized she’s overwhelmed in a different way.” “I didn’t mean to draw all women, it wasn’t my plan,” he says, inferring that the painting has its own will and personality that it asserts as it is being created.

There is an intuition not only to his process, but to the way he draws the human form as well. Looking through his large pile of studies, the characters don’t feel like mere technical figure drawings, but true gestural forms that convey the grace and organic nature of the human body, much like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael drew in their studies. Smith names Albrecht Durer as an influence because, ““[Durer] is approaching it from the inside out—And when it gets down to it, Durer paints what resonates on the inside, he’s a lot more searching rather than dramatic in the way he draws. He’s certainly not Italian in that aspect.”

Bruce Smith talks about some of his other influences such as J. W. Waterhouse, German printmaker Albrecht Durer, and Renaissance painters as we look through reference books. He has a wealth of knowledge of both classical and modern artists, a studio brimming full of sketches and ideas, and near the end of our visit with him he quotes the famous optical illusionist printmaker Escher who said right before he died that "he had enough in his mind to occupy three lifetimes." Talking to Smith it is clear that he is just as active a thinker as he is a painter in his later career, and that he is still anxious to hunt down and then portray and convey the beautiful and the true.

We really enjoyed this visit. Get a close up look of the Nativity print here.

-New Vision Art

11 Art Studios with Classes in the Provo Area

11 Art Studios with Classes in the Provo Area

There are quite a few options for lots of different forms of art here in the Provo-Orem-Springville area. When it comes to getting your art on, we know it’s a discretionary income expense and therefore needs to be scrutinized with some measure of cost-benefit analysis so as not to waste money you could have used going to the movies or out to a nice dinner. I initially attempted to index each of these art class-offering studios according to its price, but what I discovered was that it really just depends on how you slice it. Some studios, such as Gomm Stained Glass offer a six-session (two hour per session) course for $175. That comes out to not even $15 per hour for art instruction, a pretty great deal. But even if you broke down what each studio charged you per hour of instruction, that wouldn’t accurately portray the true costs associated with most classes. Many classes will also charge you for supplies or other random fees, the cost of which you’d need to spread out over all the hours your class takes place. Most studios are fairly reasonable, and some (like Patty's Ceramics) offer a ridiculously good bang for your buck. Enjoy!

Provo Rec Center

Definitely among the better organized of all the art studios in the area, the rec center offers classes on seasonal and introductory photography, comic book art, painting, drawing, bookbinding and ceramics. Some are age group specific, so your kids can learn with other kids, or so you can get a break from your kids.


Scera Art Studio

Classes in pottery, anime, cartooning/illustrating, watercolor, and standard drawing and painting are listed on Scera’s website. Courses are semester length, and are offered at an attractive price. The adult watercolor class for example, meets every Wednesday night for two hours for over three months. At a price tag of $225 (art supplies included!), you’re only looking at something like seven bucks per hour of instruction, one of the best deals around! Also, the Scera Art Studio has a seriously large selection of home school art classes, so if that applies to you or your child they would be worth checking out.

Harmony

If crocheting, sewing, dreamcatchering, weaving, dye-yarn-with-Kool-Aiding, embroidering or essential oil-make-and-takes are for you, you might consider making a trip over to Harmony. Also, there are sporadic classes on fun topics, such as a class from a few Saturdays ago about how to make delicious looking pancake taco things, so check their website frequently for updates.

The Drawing Room Art Studio

The Drawing Room Art Studio is likely the least formal studio on this list, so if that appeals to you, check out their Facebook account. Classes in drawing and painting for children and teens are offered, as well as cartoon drawing and ceramics for all ages.

Michael’s

Daily classes in cake decorating, painting, drawing, paper crafting, knitting and crocheting. Michael’s charges class customers per visit, not for the entire course, or for the suite of courses. For example, one of the cake decorating suites, the Wilton Cake Decorating Method, contains three different courses, each with three individual sessions within them. So, if you want to become a Michael’s cake master, you need to dish out $15 * 9 sessions, which equals $135, not too bad. One nice thing about Michael's is that they sometimes sponsor events where your children get to make a craft and you can shop, such as this Saturday from 10 AM-Noon when kids can make paper lanterns for FREE. 

Joann’s

Look for on-sale classes from Joann’s. For example, each of the three Wilton courses offered are currently only $22.50! And that’s for FOUR two hour sessions, so the price of the entire Wilton Cake Decorating program will only run you $67.50, exactly half the price of Michael’s. Now, not all of the courses are one sale, in fact most of them are about the same as Michael’s.

Liquid Lead Art

Liquid Lead Art has classes year round on niches such as airbrushing, and lots of specific acrylic and oil painting sessions on topics like landscapes, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, July 4th, gardens, and lighthouses. Some of the classes, such as the airbrushing one, are month long subscriptions containing four or five sessions, and others like the class on lighthouses are just a one time event. Single events are a bit pricey here, so consider signing up for longer courses here.

HERE

HERE is a fun new consignment shop on Center Street in Provo that just opened a few short months ago. You should leave your home right now and buy some art there, actually. (Disclaimer, we have art for sale there :) ). Up above in the loft there are rows of clipboards with class sign-up sheets for topics from book-binding to glass-staining. During your next night on the town, check this place out.

Patty’s Ceramics

Ceramics classes are offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. You must bring your own supplies, but the classes are abnormally cheap at only $3 per session!

Color Me Mine

Color Me Mine has an adult beginners canvas painting class about once a month for around $30. They have many more options for children, mostly in the form of camps. They recently held a camp where on one day the children painted Angry Birds canvas paintings, so they have pretty fun stuff!

Gomm Stained Glass

Directly from their website: “Cost is $175 for six stained glass sessions. Each session is 2 hours long and with the course of instructions come supplies (including $20 of solder and $14 of copper foil and most of the glass) for a first panel and a ($20) glass cutter. We teach one on one and will arrange to meet with you at the times that are best for you.” The Gomms are a really experienced and approachable couple, give them a shot if you want to work your way up to making bigger stained-glass objects such as sun-catchers and would like to do so in a personal environment.

We hope you'll get involved in the local art community and enjoy all that the Provo area has to offer!