Book Reviews | Visual Arts

FINALLY . . . a book about Tony Smith

Tony Smith Finally a Book About Me

It had been a long damn day. I mean, I made vast quantities of peach marmalade, gutted 12 varieties of tomato for seed for next year’s garden and had just settled in for a well-deserved drink when the doorbell rang — and behold, the postman with a book from someone named T. Smith on the Avenues. What could this be?

Ninety minutes and 80 pages later I came up for air, drink forgotten, fully engrossed by a self-published coffee table tome frankly entitled: “f–k you–FINALLY . . . a book about me.” Put together by artist and U. of U. Professor Emeritus of Art Frank Anthony Smith, it truly is effing fascinating.

His story begins well before “Alvin Gittins taught me to see, and Doug Snow taught me to dream,” though that particular insight into the artist as a young man may be worth the price of admission for Tony Smith aficionados ($38 at Sam Weller’s, Phillips Gallery, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake Art Center, and Ken Sanders Rare Books).

Smith was a “real pain in the ass” kid whose typical Catholic boyhood in Mormon country was interrupted by rheumatic fever when he was 10, which gave him enough bored and lonely time to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, listen to radio comedies and dramas, and develop the kind of imagination that led to his first drawing and the realization that he could thus create a world of his own design. He discusses grade school and high school under the tutelage of nuns,|1| getting laid or not, dropping acid, and serving as a medic in the Army, which perhaps shaped his view of this country that, “We’ve certainly won the war on low self-esteem.”

And there’s much, much more for fans. Smith’s idea of beauty, favorite artists, writers, movies, books, whiskey, and TV shows are revealed — artistically, of course. And at some point you realize that golf and cigars are not metaphors for anything phallic but rather a much-favored pastime (he’s hit a hole in one and cigars, especially Padron 4000, maduro, or Cuban Partagas no. 4, are something he actually smokes). He talks about working on the first Star Trek movie and getting a ticket near Springville in his hippie days for “littering” when he thought a fence in a field was much improved when hung with one of his paintings.|2|

And there is, of course, the art. Liberated from painting some five years ago by retirement, Smith’s work now is almost entirely drawn with markers. He describes drawing as a game he plays with himself, first setting up parameters like a crazy outline or tough angles then going in with markers “and trying to make the whole thing feel dimensional and bumpy. In the process I discover imagery like guns, heads, genitalia, dirt holes, crosses, knives, oil lamps, faces, people doing weird things, it’s all like a kind of wakeful dreaming.”|3| These are incredible images and deliver their own sort of wakeful dream when looked at patiently. In short, they’re a trip.

He writes:

It it [yes, he needed an editor on this project] wonderful to just play and let things surprise you. The weight and shape of a black dancing with the edge of the paper, the rhythms of colored and black alternating lines, the direction shapes can move like elevation lines on a map always amazes me. However I work, whether with form or a subject, I always enjoy most the illusion of volume on a flat page. Someone said once that on my tombstone it would say . . . “HE LIKED TO MAKE THINGS LOOK ROUND”

It is disappointing that there isn’t more of Smith’s earlier art in this book, but that’s been done before and he’s firmly focused on the here and now and the hereafter.

Several people have said this book is “just like Tony.”|4| It’s irreverent, wicked, sly, laugh-out-loud funny, a little consumed with mortality issues, a lot consumed with family, and an absorbing read about the development of an artist and a man. It’s not for kids, unless they were brought up in Sweden, or for your maiden aunt unless she lives there. But if you read this 15 Bytes e-zine, it’s probably for you.

As part of the 15 Bytes Fall Fundraiser a copy of Tony Smith’s book is available as a thank-you gift for a donation of $125. Click here to access our fundraiser page.

*A note on the title of the book: 15 Bytes does not have an editorial problem publishing judicious use of four-letter Anglo-Saxon words. Search engines and firewalls, however, are not as open minded. So that our more protected readers might learn about the book, and our other content, we decided to employ a judicious use of hyphens.

Categories: Book Reviews | Visual Arts

1 reply »

  1. Hello! Fun to stumble upon this, will have to buy this book. I was a former student of Tony’s back in the day and I was hoping to get a hold of him as I recently saw a documentary about crows that made me think of him. Even with the help of the almighty internet I was not able to find his email(although I only search for 13 min). Anyway this is what I meant to tell him. Maybe you can pass it on.

    Tony!! Your drawing class at the U was one I really enjoyed! Being a typical self absorbed artist at the time I didn’t fully appreciate your class as much as I would have had I taken it now(more wisdom now). Still in the long run you, Wilson Sam, and Nate Winters were always my favorite professors, Cheers to the past!
    btw.. For money I do medical stuff instead of art now but I still do art as it’s in my blood–>

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