Muralist Pete Smith’s 90-Day Feat
The Artist Created 90 Portrait Studies in 90 Days
John Lee Hooker, the late and great Detroit bluesman (for a sonic image of his signature boogie guitar rhythm, think ZZ Top’s “La Grange”), sang a cool, memorable line in his iconic 1948 song, “Boogie Chillen.” It went like this:
Let that boy boogie-woogie. It got to come out.
It got to come out. Oh, yeah. The lyric settled in my brain as I sat in Hymie’s Delicatessen with my good friend and mural artist Pete Smith. His designs covered every inch of wall space. (It occurred to me: If I were some sort of art dealer big shot and asked for a look at the artist’s portfolio, Smith could coyly answer, Just look around…)
We all have our destinies to fulfill and it got to come out. Pete Smith, 65, a veteran of every sort of excessive outcome that our generation imposed on itself (enough said)–definitely a learned old hippie, he–is fulfilling his destiny quite nicely, thank you very much…and it got to come out.
Smith’s recent achievement–90 portrait studies painted in 90 days–is being exhibited at a Bryn Mawr gallery and has been warmly received on social media. The feather in his cap is worn with a bit of irony, considering that the impetus for doing the portraits was based more on therapy and less on ambition. Smith:
I decided that it was time to stop drinking. One of the teachings I had heard of was to do something different…change your previous behavior. At the time I was not doing artwork. So I took this idea and started to do 90 drawings in 90 days. I did all different things, like landscapes. This got me back into art and mural paintings.
So 24 years later, I was looking at what I wanted to do next. I always loved painting people. So I reached back into the past and started doing portrait studies…90 studies in 90 days.
Pete Smith, Muralist
In early sobriety, Smith would still rely on old skills and old friends to kickstart his artistic journey.
It [creating murals] grew out of my handyman business. I started painting designs in people’s houses, like kids rooms. An art school friend called and said they were converting some tennis barns into a baseball academy. I painted baseball card images, like Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn and others. When I finished, I thought that was the end of the story. But people kept calling.
At some point, Pete Smith began to realize that he had become a muralist…a business that he “had no idea existed.”
I did a couple of gyms…I remember one in Havertown, one in Horsham. I did big ones, small ones, lots of Italian villages. I did one for a small café on Lancaster Avenue [in Bryn Mawr], and then the people across the street at Medley Music Mart wanted one.
Medley Music went out of business and took down the mural, but not before Smith’s work–an image of several people playing musical instruments on an outdoor staircase–made the cover of the Suburban & Wayne Times on August 8, 1996.
90 Portrait Studies
The portrait studies run the gamut of famous people, “interesting people” and family members. In the coming weeks, Pete Smith and his portraits will be joining his colleagues Steve Flom and Karl Jones inside the Art Gallery tab. In the meantime, here is a sampling:
The actual event…the doing of the work…the creative process…to me is more important than the finished product. I love doing this. —Pete Smith
By Andrew Goutman
Under Construction is made with acrylic on canvas, wood and vinyl, monofilament, graphite, foam, metal and found objects.
This body of work is centered in reconstructing and decorating a story’s moment in symbolic plastic model sprue tree fabrications, monofilament portrait and wall drawings…vestiges of loved objects, reconfigured experiences conforming to emotional memory.
Reassembly Required is constructed with acrylic on canvas and wood, graphite and metal.
The Monofilament Series:
Monofilament, which is a very personal material to me, has value and emotional range running from a thin veil of dust to solid mass…Some pieces include aspects of storytelling and, I believe, American dark humor with respectful irreverence.
Cholly At Auction is composed of monofilament, wire, wood and a found object.
The Sprue Tree Series:
The sprue tree is a fixed snap shot of something or someone that has been born and built up as a plastic model kit but later held still by fate, disassembled and placed back on the sprue, a person in a state of suspension, unable to evolve; the schematic yet graphic portrait of a coveted object.
On My Sprue Tree is made with acrylic on canvas, wood, metal, monofilament, graphite, foam and found objects.
I invoke an alternate form of a cautionary tale or human existence story involving attempts to evaluate their nature and qualities; capturing visceral moments, illusion and tapping into their unique idiosyncrasies.
Passing On is composed of acrylic on canvas, wood and found objects.
Awards and Exhibits:
2013 – Dave Brown Projects, 6th Semiannual Competition. Honorable Mention.
2013 – Hal Bromm Gallery – Tribeca announces Lost and Found II Exhibition.
2012-13 – Chris White Gallery, Wilmington, Delaware
2011 – Philadelphia Moca InLiquid Benefit
1991 – Philadelphia Armory
1983-84 – White Columns, New York City
1983 – Sculpture at Penn’s Landing
1975-78 – Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, Cresson European Traveling Scholarship
Karl Jones’ website is karljonesart.com.
Beloved Philadelphia/South Jersey stone sculptor Steve Flom is the second featured artist in the Art Gallery, and first sculptor. We are proud to display a sampling of his work.
A graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), Flom has won numerous prizes and awards in juried shows throughout the region. His most recent honor was winning the Leona Karp Braverman Memorial Award for Sculpture in last year’s PAFA Fellowship juried show. His work was recently exhibited in both the Arts Center and Sidetracks Gallery in New Hope, PA.
On working in stone:
As a student at the Academy, I worked summers trimming trees, so I had good access to wood for carving. But hoping to sell my work, I sought out a more ‘permanent’ medium…One could scrounge marble doorsteps from abandoned South Philly rowhouses and limestone blocks from demolition sites. I picked up a set of stone tools and never put them down…Working in stone is like searching for life’s essence.
On the erotic nature of his art:
I try in my work, using the human form, to convey, ‘life’s longing for itself.’ It’s the solitude, silence, shyness, the loneliness, the longing, the lust. “Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.” –Khalil Gibran
On the method of his work:
I look at a block of stone and try to visualize the figure within…I like to work with rectangular blocks… I’ll make a couple of rough sketches, and ask the model to take the pose…I like to draw the pose from front to back to sides…I also like to take back-up photos…I’ll redraw, carve, redraw, carve, working round and round and round…Usually the stone itself will influence the piece, and it’ll become the fusion of the model and the medium.