Douglas Smith makes a living painting places and people he’s never seen. The 30-year-old travels the globe via the Internet, falling in love with imagery from foreign cultures that he reinterprets and incorporates into his canvases. First Thursday-goers, for example, are familiar with the vibrant paintings of monks smoking or skipping that the prolific painter sells for no more than $20 in his booth. (“I want to give everybody the chance to buy original artwork at an affordable price,” he says.)
The tribal look of his work makes you wonder whether he hails from Tibet or Haiti, but he grew up in Naples, Florida. “The tropical lifestyle I had growing up in the Keys influences my paintings,” he says of the images he spends 8 to 14 hours a day creating on recycled surfaces such as cigar boxes, crates and canvases made of discarded burlap bags and jute rugs. “The artwork there is very simple, very colorful. I think my paintings look like Haitian artwork.”
Along with a motherlode of tropical imagery stashed in his memory, Smith has a love of faraway places that is in his blood. His grandparents were spirited travelers, so his Realtor-parents valued that in their family. “We traveled to Europe and to every state in the U.S. two or three times,” he says. “My dad is an amateur gold prospector, so we’d search for gold in streams in rugged places like Montana and Wyoming. Traveling my whole life tempts me to search out different cultures that have aesthetics I love. Then I filter them through my American personality, manipulate them and make them my own.”
Smith earned a B.A. in communications and a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of South Florida. “Some of my grad school teachers almost made me stop painting,” he says. “They didn’t like that I wasn’t trying to say something profound or save the world. I just loved the images. They called me a racist, saying that I ‘go’ around the world without traveling there, steal the cultural heritage of people and hang it up as a trophy. But I don’t think there is a pure way of visiting a place today.”
The painter considers Can I Stay Here? (above), a 51/2–foot-wide by 8-foot-long landscape of a lake in Kenya, his masterpiece (“—so far!” he adds, with a laugh.). A sliver of an African tribal textile accents the bottom of the canvas. Silhouetted herons draw your eye to the water’s edge. “My uncle traveled to this lake and took a photograph of it that I really liked,” he says. “I wrote CAN I STAY HERE? in Swahili in marker underneath the clouds, which turns it into a ‘living’ painting. The older the painting gets, the more the words will bleed through the clouds. What I love about painting is the process: The actual painting is just a byproduct. For the last five years, all I’ve done is stay home and paint. I have 10,000 paintings in my head that I just don’t have the time to paint!” Can I Stay Here? costs $1,000.
Contact painter Douglas Smith via his website, douglasmith.com. You can also find him in booth #72 (on 13th Ave. between Johnson and Irving streets) every First Thursday in the Pearl.