Seth Smith’s paintings feature scenes of an empty pool or the front of an inn that one might see off a highway exit on a road trip. His work, a style he describes as escapism, is travel inspired. Although the COVID-19 pandemic impacted travel—Smith found the last year to be an important year for him creatively.
“Each painting or commission has been a lifeline, since we have all been cut off from travelling and connecting,” he says. “I was able to wander certain areas, but that freedom and wanderlust being denied was a terrible thing for many. I had to really be present with the compositions and savor each one because they were my only source of escape and stillness in an otherwise scary and depressing year.”
He started creating at a young age, but a trip to Albuquerque, N.M. at 15 years old shifted his focus.
“The art and colors there at the time were really abstract and colorful,” he describes. “Many Native American artists using vivid, textured oil paints and negative space…It was like nothing I had seen before, and it really spoke to me. It was expressive, sublime, dark and mysterious. I was hooked and wanted to know more and research everything I could about those painters.”
From early 2000 until about 2012, he primarily painted in an abstract style. The work from that period for him was more about enjoying the act of painting. While he had a consistent desire to paint “things,” a lack of experience or insecurity held Smith back from taking the leap to do it and showing the work—until a trip to the Florida Keys in 2010.
“I watched a palm shadow move across a bright blue motel door for about an hour,” he recalls. “I had a revelation about what really mattered to me about making art, and I immediately decided it was time to change.”
Around the time his first child was born, Smith says he was worried he would never get to travel or feel the same freedom while on the road, which inspired something different in his art.
“One night I went into the studio and started to paint a scene that made me feel an escape, a vacation in my mind,” he says. “The calm stillness of shadow and light, the warmth and cool, time passing slowly and purposefully. These things calmed me and took me to a place I needed to be.”
He draws inspiration for his current pieces from places like Southern California, Florida Keys and from mid-century modern architecture. He uses vintage vacation photos, old postcards and travel brochures to find color palettes. He considers painting itself to be the easy part, the challenge is finding what to paint.
“Not all of my stuff is on the nose sunny warm pool scenes. I’m really just looking for moments to interpret,” he says. “Moments that make me pause. Dramatic shadows and searing light that happen for a split second.”
To view more of Smith’s work, visit http://www.sethsmithstudio.com/