A tree, with its trunk and ever-expanding branches, is composed of lines, but there is no regularity to them: they are a natural system of creation with a beauty and structure of their own, speaking to their innate essence. Certain artists are like this: they honestly express the beauty they experience, the natural systems of creation of the earth, with their personal essence and vision that unabashedly reveals who they are. Dennis Smith is one such artist and a large collection of his artworks, primarily paintings, are currently being exhibited at David Ericson Fine Art.
Smith was born and raised in Alpine, where he continues to work and find inspiration in rural settings. He served an LDS mission to Copenhagen, from 1961-63, and after attending Brigham Young University, returned to Denmark where he attended The Royal Academy of Art at Copenhagen from 1966- 67. Perhaps it was the feeling of Hans Christian Andersen alive in the air of Copenhagen, but enchantment, and a deep connection with children, on a spiritual and symbolic level, has become a primary inspiration and model for Smith’s art.
Smith makes this connection explicit in his artist statement: “the child is a metaphor for life; children’s lives, as they explore the world around them, parallel our lives as adults as we discover our identity in this universe.” Smith’s works capture this youthful vision, “still vibrant and alive, frozen in the moment of discovery.”
One sees his “Apparitions Over Brigham” as if through the eyes of a child, big and bright, and saturated with color. With the horizontals of boulevards and the verticality of buildings, trees and lampposts, the linearity of the painting is accentuated. But so is color. Streetcars of lucid yellow with streaky trails cut through the excitement of downtown. The sky radiates with shades of blue, violet, orange. This is Salt Lake City, a wonderland to a child, who might, in the whirlwind of blue violet and orange, and in the mind’s eye, also see apparitions, two heavenly beings crossing the sky above the prominent statue of Brigham Young.
How a child might gaze upon “Sledding Hill” in the late hours of dusk is possible to envision only for a child. The mountainside flows in deep violet and blue hues and furrowed depths and tonality, visible with the last of the sun on the crest of the far mountain, calling the child in for the close of day. It is a vision of fantasy and beauty unlike that experienced by a “grown-up,” and that which the child, exhausted, will fall asleep to, in their eyes and dreams.
Sledding is also the subject in “Home from Sledding,” which is bathed in an expanse of fading light from the sun, receding and leaving its mark brightly, in the hook of an embedded trail in snow, flowing toward a cottage, around, then far into the distance. One child pulls a sled, with another sleepily bent over, as they glide along the crest of a trail into the sheltering cottage; it is an expressive use of color, light and subject, to symbolize the everyday reality of ongoing experience, through children.
How is the subject of a child, seen through their vision, or from within their sensibilities, expressed in these compositions? Just as amazement, emotion, experience, and hope are seen through eyes that are pure. “Treehouse at Dark” is everything right. The road is boldly and precisely foreshortened, leading to a mountain in the vast distance, catching incandescent red light of fading sunlight, superbly balanced. A massive tree trunk with a tree house nestled in its frame contributes to the harmony of how all should be. But, not quite. A young boy makes his way down the road, facing the horizon, pulling a bright red wagon. Wonderment and youthful vision are added to the composition. Now everything is right.
Every artist should have something to say. Dennis Smith has much to say, and he says it in many ways, but most importantly through the eyes of children, expressing a vision of beauty that is the purity they experience and see.
New works by Dennis Smith is at David Ericson Fine Art in Salt Lake City (418 South 200 West) through November 19.
Ehren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. For a decade he lived in Salt Lake City and worked as a professional writer until his untimely death in 2017.