Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Artist of the Week

Casey Jex Smith
The symbols of the church posses a strength, a beauty, and an overall power that goes beyond one's own personal belief. These symbols and images transcend generation and have been maintained, enhanced, and manipulated by the artistic mind for centuries. It is through these images that the rich history of the church has been preserved and relayed to generation after generation. The hand of the artist has frequently updated and enhanced the familiar images with there own personal touches and abilities. One artist who is taking the symbols and figures of the Mormon church and mixing them with his own skill, passion, and soul is Detroit native Casey Jex Smith.

Casey spent his formative years in Salt Lake City, Utah and grew up immersed in the culture and history of the Mormon church. He spent two years in Brazil as a LDS missionary, and draws from this foundation to create many of his pieces. Once back from Brazil, he switched majors and transferred from BYU to San Francisco Art Institute to complete his BFA in painting and drawing. Since graduating in 2005, Casey has gone on to create a collection of dramatic, soulful paintings and participate in numerous solo and group showings in across the country.

Recently, Casey took some time out to answer a few of our questions on his work and his faith.

Orange Alert (OA): How would you define your style of painting?
Casey Jex Smith (CJS): post-mission-neo-religious-symbolist

OA: In an interview last year with Chris Pew, you mentioned that you had spent two years as an LDS Missionary. How does your faith impact your art?
CJS: It impacts my entire perspective on life and art. I make art through the lens of someone raised in Utah as a devout Mormon and who still is. I spent two years knocking on people's doors (in Brazil you clap) in Brazil. That was a profound experience that shapes everything I do today. Luckily this church has a rich visual history as well that attaches itself onto the Christian tradition. Lots to decipher, deconstruct, steal from, and re-contextualize.

OA: Who are some of your biggest influences artistically?
CJS: Sufjan Stevens and Half-Handed Cloud are big influences. Too many visual artists to name here so I'll list seven: Jared Lindsay Clark, Brice Marden, Mark Mulroney, Vija Celmins, David Lynch, Colter Jacobsen, and C.C. A. Christensen.

OA: Do you listen to music while you create? Who are some of your favorite> artists to listen to while creating and in general?
CJS: Yep. Sufjan Stevens, Half-Handed Cloud, The Rapture, TV on the Radio,White Stripes, M83. Way too much NPR. "I heard blah blah blah on NPR the other day..."

OA: I love the colorful explosion that occasionally occur in your pieces. What is the inspiration behind these "explosions"?
CJS: Making the soul visible.

OA: I read you have a passion for Jello, are some of the colors drawn from that passion?
CJS: Actually, I don't really ever eat jello. I had my girlfriend make me some jello for the show that I just had at Swarm Gallery for the opening. Jello is the official food for the state of Utah. It's a Mormon/Utah culture thing. Mormons (for the most part) don't smoke, drink alcohol or coffee, or use drugs. So sugar is our substance of abuse. We eat lots of ice cream, baked-goods, and jello filled with whatever you can think of. And it's colors are pretty.

OA: What is next for Casey Jex Smith?
CJS: I'm curating a show called Fired! for the Garage Biennale that will show afterwards at Swarm Gallery in Oakland. It opens June 30th. My girlfriend, Amanda Lynch, will be one of the artists in the show. She introduced me to the "clay world". I wanted at first to curate a drawing show but decided I would be showing the same old artists that already get a lot of play in SF. Clay people on the other hand seem to stick to their own like printmakers. They need a little more attention. Some of them.

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
CJS: Well, I don't drink coffee. I love the smell though. Love coffee flavored candy and ice-cream.

OA: What was the last great book that you read?
CJS: I just read Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 for the first time. To figure out what utopia is, I suppose I should know what dystopia is like. Can't wait for the new Harry Potter.

For more information on Casey Jex Smith please visit his website.

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