Sponsored by Tangipahoa Parish
Oil on canvas, 60" x 84", by Ed Smith
Throughout 2017, we’re exploring some of the different ways Louisiana artists go about expressing place. These images capture aspects of Louisiana landscape from unexpected perspectives. They, and the artists who create them, see elements of the world around us that most of us miss—or miss seeing fully. In sharing these artists’ perspectives, we hope to open a window to fuller appreciation of this many-faceted place we call home.
Fortunate One. Oil on canvas. 60" x 84". By Ed Smith.
Ask Ed Smith, LSU professor of painting and drawing, how the environment of his adopted Louisiana influences the way he paints, and he’ll talk about the sheer teeming profusion of living things. “Moving here, I became very aware of the density of the landscape,” he said. “There’s the feeling that if we, as humans, just stopped for a few years, nature would just swallow us up.”
Although Smith credits the sheer life force of South Louisiana for making nature impossible to ignore, his work cautions viewers against taking it for granted. For years, the artist has expressed his concern for habitat loss through allegorical masses of bright, beautiful birds crowded together, as if in defense against some malignant external force. He explained that his clusters represent the idea of wild things retreating into ever smaller spaces as the pressures of human activity reach more deeply into their worlds. In this piece a cuckoo, surrounded by supplicants, lays an egg in the nest of a host bird, killing the original occupant’s eggs in the process. “Every bird in the painting has something in its mouth to feed the cuckoo, and it’s insatiable,” Smith explained. “It’s about the wealth gap in this country … how the many are servicing the very entitled and fortunate few.”
Smith is widely recognized for his bird paintings, but recently his focus has shifted to depicting plants and trees. “I’m still painting forms,” he noted, “but now I’m interested in exploring things that have been pruned or distorted so much from their original form that we’ve kind of destroyed them.”
Asked what he wants viewers to take away from a painting, Smith said, “I want it to unfold like a novel. First I want it to be eye-candy—I want it to hook you like a good song. Then I want it to reveal itself slowly, like a film. Matisse said he wanted his paintings to be like a comfortable armchair. I don’t want that. My viewers—I want them to leave feeling like there’s something wrong in there.”
This month the art of Ed Smith will be profiled on LPB’s Art Rocks, the weekly showcase of Louisiana’s visual and performing arts hosted by Country Roads publisher James Fox-Smith. Tune in on Friday, March 24 at 8:30 pm, repeating on Saturday, March 25 at 5:30 pm, across the Louisiana Public Broadcasting network. lpb.org/artrocks.