Vincent Smith (American, 1929-2003) was a Brooklyn native known for his creation of expressive, abstract figures, and emotive, patterned backgrounds which often reveal the gritty reality of life in New York. At other times his work can be a playful celebration of the energy, music, and people of the communities in which he lived and reveled.
Although Smith showed an affinity for art and music from a young age, he spent time working on the railroad and serving in the army in the south before, while working for the postal service in New York at age 22 in 1952, he was so moved by the Cezanne exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art that he decided to resign and become a professional artist.
In the following years Smith would study at the Art Students League (1953), the Skowhegan School of Art and Painting (1955), and the Brooklyn Museum Art School (1953/56). Throughout the 1950s he became deeply engrossed in the bohemian jazz and art world, painting scenes of the neighborhoods, jazz clubs, and pool halls where he spent his time.
In the 1960s Smith became involved with the Civil Rights Movement, and the content of his work shifted towards social commentary, reflecting the suffering and strength he witnessed in the fight for equality. In 1967, he began experimenting with elements of collage and other mixed-media in his painting, mixing sand into his paint to invoke specific textures. From his early career Smith was interested in the study of African history and culture, and in the 1970s he was able to travel extensively in West Africa and hold several exhibitions of his work there.
As an artist, teacher, and informed student of art history, Smith’s work reflects an awareness of the white-washed art-historical narrative; this he attempted to change, by expressing the dynamic reality of life in Black communities in New York and beyond. Smith died in 2003 at the age of 75.