Art as a Journey

Our world is filled with a seemingly countless array of wondrous places and people that are, in themselves, priceless gifts for the mind’s eye. But, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And for one USF student, and his artistically prolific mind’s eye, the sights of our world have translated into a voyage of colorful bliss.

Douglas Smith, a graduate student in his fifth year of study at USF, has unveiled his artistic rendition of African sights (and one stretch canvas portrait of the Hillsborough River) in a showcase titled “My Journey,” running through July 11 in the Marshall Center’s Centre Gallery.

“Africa is so rich and beautiful in culture,” said Smith. “It is such a vast culture to cover, so I chose to reflect on Kenyan culture in particular.”

Smith, who has never taken a single art class, has been painting for eight years and “My Journey” is his first collection of themed paintings. This exhibit is the beginning collection of the project that Smith hopes to extend throughout his travels and, in turn, painting.

“Throughout the summer, next semester and on, I want to span out to cover more of Africa and then other parts of the world,” said Smith.

The five years he has spent, in total, at USF have not been a continuous run. After getting his bachelor’s degree in communications he left the university and his Naples home and headed west. For four years, he lived in Oregon and honed his new craft – mastery of free time.

“I did pretty much nothing at all in Oregon,” said Smith. “I traveled with Phish and painted a lot.”

Phish is a band that has developed into a culture of sorts. They are followed all over the country by hippie and hillbilly alike, with a sort of modern Grateful Dead fan-base.

This culture of happiness, creativity and downright fun was, and is, a heavy influence on Smith’s work.

“I put no effort or thought into it – it just flows,” said Smith. “It’s not a hypnotic state, or anything, it’s just something I love and the fun of that is the actual inspiration.”

The word “fun” is accentuated throughout “My Journey” and is the basis for all of Smith’s work. There is no political stand, no intrinsic message; just art, just fun.

“I try to stay away from any political aspect, that’s not what inspires me,” said Smith. “I’m inspired by the fun of playing with color and the visual images in my head. There’s enough inspiration in taking the beauty out in the world, using it and seeing it work on my canvas.”

Sussy Vasquez, a senior, spoke highly of the opening.

“I think USF has done a great thing by letting students showcase art in a designated place, especially with a talented collection like this,” she said.

Megan Sheehan, another USF student, also had good things to say.

“I love all the colors,” said Sheehan. “The collection is absolute eye candy, like reading a book.”

Smith’s work, however, has not impressed everyone. Some of his critics have taken something much more serious away from his “My Journey” exhibition.

“I have caught a lot of flack for this exhibit,” said Smith, “Critics and professors have called it racist – said my colonialism has raped these places of their identity, and that these are used as trophies I’ve robbed from these cultures – real nasty stuff.”

John Maple, a friend and fellow graduate student at USF, spoke about the backlash against Smith’s artwork.

“He’s gone through a lot of struggles with his work from faculty and critics,” said Maple. “But he stays true to himself and paints what is within him.”

Smith’s rendition of the visual images of the cultures of Africa are, as Smith sees it, out of respect, awe and a youthful creative innocence that run rampant in his art and his exuberant persona – happiness not hate.

“The patterns in these paintings showcase and incorporate African ceremonial garbs, aboriginal dream – work dots, and so many other cultural inspirations,” said Smith.

The future may hold much promise and many plans for the young artist (he sold four pieces at the opening alone), and Smith seems to be in control of his own destiny and that of his art, as well.

“I plan to work harder at my craft and in building my own artistic language,” said Smith. “I want to relate my own personal experiences, like my travels with Phish, into my work. I’d like to someday take my graduate work and travel all over the country selling it.”

Smith also sees the light of tutelage at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

“My ultimate goal is to teach,” said Smith. “I can’t think of anything better to do than teach and travel – and paint it all.”