Saturday was my seventieth birthday.
When I woke up this morning, it was from a dream in which I was standing in a store of some sort…like an old country store…and I was looking across the counter at dozens and dozens of pigeonholes, or square cubicles. Inside them were all sorts of items. The dream is fading so fast that I can’t recall in detail what any of the items were. But they were things like brushes, carrots, pretty-colored rocks and small collectibles.
There was an old woman clerk behind the counter. She reminded me of Fru Vernø, an elderly landlady I once had when I was living in Denmark as a young Mormon missionary. She also reminded me of my step-grandmother, Zell, whom my mom often referred to as Mrs. Mears. Mrs. Mears was hard of hearing and always wore a hearing aid which was attached to a battery pack that she carried in her apron pocket. Every once in a while she would reach her hand into her pocket to adjust the sound level. It would squeak and hum for a few seconds until she got it just right, and then she would continue listening to me as I jabbered to Grandpa.
I must write more about Zell and Fru Vernø sometime, but I am meandering now, and must get back to the dream.
I begin picking out items from the cubby holes behind the counter and writing them down on a slip of paper, one at a time. Actually, I wanted everything on the shelves but had the good sense to know that I needn’t have it all. And then, suddenly, I was out the door and catching a bus to I don’t know where.
By the time I realized where I was going, the bus had rounded the corner onto Center Street in American Fork (where Grandpa and Zell moved after they sold the farm in Alpine), and it is dropping me off in front of their house….a little brick bungalow with a front porch where Grandpa used to sit and read the paper while Zell would adjust her hearing aid in order to listen to her canary sing from its perch in the living room through the front door.
Like most dreams, this one is fading faster than I can write, but by writing it down I am getting an essence of what the dream might have meant.
Because today I am seventy. And I am trying to wrap my mind around that fact. I am at least as old this morning as Grandpa and Zell were when I would walk down to their house after school at the junior high school and ask them if I could sleep overnight in Uncle Clarence’s empty bed, because it was Friday and there would be no school tomorrow. And Grandpa would get up early, and shuffling around the kitchen he would fry us an egg, and the aroma of coffee was thick in the air and beautiful in my nostrils. He would bow his head and say a little blessing over the eggs and I would eat in a completely innocent atmosphere unhindered by any anxiety over politics or religion or any of the grownup things that would later puzzle and confuse me.
So…..if I could start over in life and I could have anything I wanted, I think I would wish for more self-confidence. I would wish for more of that feeling I felt in Grandpa’s kitchen, when the world was bright and right, and full of possibilities. It was a life so unhindered that I could reach out and take whenever I wanted. Not that I would take everything, but I would take a little more confidence in myself. Like most of us, I live life with a veil of insecurity infecting my actions that would be better served if I had acquired a bit more chutzpah.
Overly-conscious of what others might think, or how I look, or what someone will say, I guard my explorations and passions to the point that many of my daytime dreams are more stunted than they otherwise might have been. I wish I had known this years ago. It would have affected the freedom with which I would have lived my life and expressed myself.
I believe we all are born with a core desire for something which will bring us a total fulfillment in our lives. It might be service to others, or structure and organization, or any number of things. Unfortunately, many of us live whole lives without finding clarity in what we want life to be about.
For me, as for many who become writers or dancers or poets or artists, the driving force is expression.
Even though I feel a tremendous sense of fulfillment about what I have been able to experience…and express… I wish I had felt more comfortable to reach for more of the stuff behind the counter in that store in my dream. I would fill bags with it and carry as much away as possible. And I would let myself feel freer to taste and touch and share my perspective about it all.
So here I am at seventy, and with cholesterol clinging to my arteries I have no idea if I will live another twenty years or whether I will drop in my tracks before sunset.
I do know that I want enough confidence, for what time I have left, to be as much of my whole self as I can be. I want to savor and sense every second, and to not censor my expressions about it. The view is so beautiful from here. So many artists these days are burdened with cynicism. The idea of beauty, for example, is seen as arcane, and with an often accompanied unhealthy disdain. Even dreams are distorted by expectations of what they might mean or with a desire to impress. As much as I love the work of Max Ernst, for example, I distrust much of the drama in his wonderful surrealist visions. So much posturing. Even Miro, whom I deeply respect for his childlike vision, is not immune.
I don’t want to spend so much time posturing. I just want to be who I am.
I can’t imagine having gone to New York to find myself as an artist, to have my work highlighted at MoMA or the Guggenheim (which for years was was an outright goal) if it had meant that I would never be able to remember and incorporate, without judgment, that porch where Grandpa read his morning paper, that divine porch (the essence of liberated mind in my dream?) where Grandma Zell sat for hours just listening to her canary. It is a world I go back to now with renewed respect for what it was, and with an awareness that it is all too fleeting to be judged, discarded or taken for granted.
In 1968 when Veloy and I came back to Utah, I set up my first studio in my dad’s old chicken coop in Alpine, the small farming community where I had grown up about thirty miles south of Salt Lake City. We had two children by that time and not a penny to our name. I had determined to make my living as an artist but hadn’t the slightest idea how I was going to do it.
I set up shop with a borrowed welding torch and not much else. I scrounged about for scrap metal and odd found objects that could be welded together and began assembling them into forms that would make some sense. Many were fairly abstract and others were inspired by the old rusting farm machinery I had grown up around. Over time, “Victorian-like” farm shapes tended to dominate both the forms and my mind. Many had wings and I came over time to call them “airships”. Looking back, I realize now that they were thinly-veiled metaphors of flight, freedom and transcendence…a safe escape from the finality of mortal life. They were my own personal totems for exploring the desire we all have to break the bonds of Earth. Like a child builds and plays, I was creating a world I could only imagine. Subconsciously, I was using these shapes and forms to find some sense of meaning in the hope we harbor for continuance beyond this life.
The assemblages, usually manned by small figures modeled in wax and then cast in bronze, became a major aspect of my work. I have created dozens, no….hundreds of them over the years, in all shapes and sizes. Many found their way into private homes, hanging from thin cables and gently swaying back and forth in quiet exhilaration. Some with ten to twenty foot wingspans hang in airports and office buildings throughout the country. People are drawn to them without understanding the passion that inspires them. I think it has something to do with feelings we all harbored as young children….feelings inspired by our fondest visions of exploration, hope and personal expression.
In the past five years I have slowly been diverted from the machine and airship images. Each piece is very labor-intensive and unique, and they became more difficult to construct as I have gotten older. My interest has gradually swung toward other projects until I barely ever work with the welded assemblages anymore. But I miss them.
Lately, I have been working on the refurbishment of a couple of pieces which I created twenty years ago for Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. They were originally positioned in the center of the visitor’s waiting room of the intensive care unit. The space is being re-modeled and the hospital administration have asked if I would re-configure the two assemblages into a flatter format that can attached on two of the side walls. So I have been cutting, re-welding…..and genuinely reminiscing about the past and that very fulfilling aspect of my work.
One of the pieces consists of a scaffold-like platform on which several small children scramble about, exploring the structure and running it. The other piece is a one-man (rather, a “three-kid”) submarine. Built of odd shapes—lids, brackets, food mixer beaters and propellers—- it surges forward under the power of imagination. Metal flashings and splashes of bronze are transformed in the mind to organic shapes as lacy as a coral reef and as billowy as a passing cloud.
In the mid-1980’s and into the 1990’s I wrote a weekly column in Salt Lake City’s major daily newspaper, The Deseret News. In all, I wrote over six hundred columns over a ten-year period before moving on to other things. Titled *Meanderings”, it was usually a perusal of what I might be thinking of at the time. The topics would range from history (both world and local), random wonderings, humorous personal anecdotes, etc….and from time to time I would delve into very serious subjects that I happened to have strong feelings about at the time. Basically, the column was an opportunity for me to express my views on anything I felt strongly, happily or frustratingly about. Later, together with my wife, Veloy, we selected fifty of the columns and published them in a book titled, “Meanderings, a Place to Grow”. (You can still acquire a copy by contacting the website).
Over the years I have also kept a fairly detailed personal journal. However, in the past few years I have not been as consistent with it, being satisfied to concentrate my expression for the most part through sculpture and, increasingly, painting.
However, I have noticed a hankering to write more lately and have realized that this blog—-which has been kept up by an assistant—-might just be the best place to verbally express my thoughts. I turn seventy in a week from now on June 16th. I can’t believe I will be so old. I want more time in my life and I am crossing my fingers and hoping I might get it. But I do love rib-eye steaks so much!!
I think I will have Chris, my assistant, come into the studio in the morning and take a photo or two of my working area at the Alpine Art Center to accompany this initial posting. I also have a studio at home a few blocks away from the art center, but I have found in the past few years that I prefer to spend most of my working time in the large studio with two or three other close colleagues….Kraig Varner, Deon Duncan and Scott Streadbeck…..as well as the community working atmosphere inspired by the thirty or so employees of the Adonis Bronze casting facility which adjoins the art center studio. I’ll have Chris take a few shots inside the studio and one or two of the foundry area as well. I’ll also ask Chris to add a little descriptive note of his own to the photos in order to give you an idea of the place where I spend my days these days.
I will try to post a new blog entry at least once a week and possibly more. I am excited to share with you some of the work which does not make its way into the art marketplace……my poetry, assemblages, collages, and drawings, for example. This gets me excited to spend a bit more time with the kind of projects which tend to fall between the cracks. This blog might change all that for me. I am looking forward to it a lot and hope to find the blog to be a more fulfilling avenue for personal expression.
This is the Alpine Art Center which Houses both the Art Center’s Reception and Catering business as well as Adonis Bronze Foundry. I have my studio space inside.
|Painting has grown into one of my favorite forms of expression.|
|A small window into the Adonis Bronze Foundry where all my sculptures are formed and finished into bronze.|
Dennis has created a beautiful Nativity set exclusively for Deseret Book. Dennis is known for his wonderful sculptures of children so it was very natural that he chose to do the Nativity as a Christmas Pageant.
They are now in stock at you local Deseret Book and on their website here.
This is the entire set together. You can also buy the individual figures
The Holy Family
We are excited to be partnered with Deseret Book on this. They are very reasonably priced and are a limited run so they should go fast. Pick up a set from Deseret Book today.
Our own Dennis Smith is one of the featured artists currently being displayed at The LDS Museum of Art, in downtown Salt Lake City. Dennis is showing four pieces in the “Seek My Face” Art Exhibit that runs through the end of June 2011.
“The exhibit features twenty-nine American professional artists, all from various backgrounds, but sharing a common religious orientation. All the artists have been invited to create exemplary visual art based on gospel themes-especially of The Lord Jesus Christ. With sincerity and dedication, skilled painters and sculptors have expressed stories from the Bible and The Book of Mormon in new, original pictures. These new and contemporary works share insight into subjects that depict the life and teachings of the Savior.
The artists have all made great efforts to creatively express gospel principles, uniting their testimony and knowledge of the subject, together with artistic gifts. The thoughtful works stem from a project organized by Artist Guild International LLC. Many of the artists have participated in this project to express their testimonies of gospel principles.
The exhibit will be on display in the Church History Museum from March 1 through June 2011”
“Passing Cemetery Hill” is one of Dennis Smith’s recently completed paintings, and, according to Dennis, it is one of the pieces that best defines him as an artist. His paintings are laced with an essence of symbolism. Some key concepts in “Passing Cemetery Hill” focus on an awareness of how we all live within our own separate worlds, within our own journeying to and from home. This concept is in part represented by the separate houses tucked along the edges of the painting. Even though we are all similar to one another, we are all unique in our experience and expression. Almost everything in a Dennis Smith painting has a greater meaning behind it. An example would be telephone poles and trees, which Dennis has said become binders between heaven and earth. Another example would be how fences, ladders and rows of trees represent, in their repetition, a consciousness of time.
Dennis said, “The significance of my visual images is connected not only to the world I see beyond home, but also within home. Home and memory are the core of past experiences. Memory merges images of the past with images of the moment. ‘Passing Cemetery Hill’ is a painting rooted in the place of my beginning – it is the small community where I grew up and where I now live. I have seen much of the world, but I always come home. Alpine, my home town, has become a metaphor for that place of rootedness. In my father’s old black truck, I pass the hill in a chronological movement through life. In the foreground, childhood prominently steps forward; our mortality and eventual demise linger always in our awareness; nevertheless hope and faith drive us toward visions of immortality. The road winds ambiguously into the distant landscape where all of us wonder about our eventual destiny, both here and possibly beyond.”
Dennis was recently in an exhibit at the Williams Fine Art center featuring Black Rock.
Dennis had four pieces in the exhibit ranging over different times, and all of them were very well received.
Black Rock is what is leftover of a volcanic plug over looking the Great Salt Lake. This landmark has been the star of many pieces of art, ranging from photographs to paintings done in all styles and forms.
The Black Rock exhibit at the Williams Fine Art center began when Thomas Alder, managing partner at Williams Fine Art, found that many images Black Rock appeared often during research for a book he is co-authoring about northern Utah. Upon this discovery, he sent out an invitation for artists to paint Black Rock and submit their painting to be in an exhibit.
The Salt Lake Tribune did an article on the Black Rock art exhibit, and Dennis was quoted in it saying, “It’s (Black Rock) a pivot point – a marker that tells you where you were in relation to home. Black Rock is a landmark in time and awareness, and all that time somehow melds together when you have a physical marker such as the one we have at the Great Salt Lake.”
To read the full article visit: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment/50102665-81/rock-black-utah-lake.html.csp
Dennis will have his work displayed at the Loveland Sculpture Invitational Art Show held August 7th and 8th. The Loveland Sculpture Invitational has become one of the biggest sculpture shows in the U.S. and we look forward to having Dennis’ work there. With Dennis’ unique style and captivating pieces, we know he will catch the attention as well as the hearts of art lovers and passersby alike.
If you are headed down to Loveland, CO for the show, stop by and take a look at some of Dennis’ iconic work. We hope to see you there!
Dennis has completed Forever Remember and it has been installed in Marietta, GA. We will be posting pictures of the unveiling soon. It was a pleasure to work with the Marietta Kiwanis Foundation, Inc. and we hope they and all who see Forever Remember will enjoy Dennis’ work and keep in their memories those who have sacrificed so much for this country both on and off the battlefield.
Dennis doesn’t do too many of these anymore. His Airships are some of his most beloved and unique works. Some of his most widely known Airships are installed in the Salt Lake City Airport. This particular airship was a commission for a private residence in Salt Lake. It was installed about a week ago.