Artist Stephen Bennett Smith is always ready to ride the wave.
He’s an outdoorsman in love with Florida’s beaches and oceans, which gave him many opportunities to swim and boat. He was an avid surfer in Long Island, New York, and continued when his family relocated to Daytona. Music has always been another interest, learning the guitar and keyboard alongside his burgeoning interest in art at the age of 8.
Smith’s plein air paintings are being shown among others as part of the Under Florida Skies exhibition at Picture Frames Unlimited. It’s the second event with the Plein Air Tallahassee group and will run through Aug. 31.
Smith began drawing cartoons and cars via his father, an engineer who often left drafting materials like pencils and triangles within reach. In high school, he took inspiration from psychedelic posters and pop art and began sketching his own poster designs. Later, he graduated from the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in fine art and painting, naming Hiram Williams as a significant mentor in his loose figurative work.
“Emotion is closely tied to my work,” said Smith. “It’s everything to me really because without it there wouldn’t be a real reason to paint. It’s like improvising a piece of music or surfing where you’re totally caught up in the moment, the movements, and the sound.”
In his home studio, Smith, 63, continued on a more abstract painting path working on largescale expressionistic portraits with bright, bold primary colors. He balances a day job at the Museum of Florida History as an exhibit designer, equally enjoying the speed of digital work and making computer illustrations for posters and interactive games. As a graphic designer for 43 years, he says his work has played a major role in his approach to a canvas.
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