ERIC DRUMMOND SMITH
THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA'S COLLEGE AT WISE / ABINGDON, VIRGINIA
The beautiful people rule the world, and the artists who make beautiful art die rich.
Certainly this is hyperbole, but it is hyperbole with a substantial serving of truth. Ugliness fascinates people, but few of us desire to be considered ugly and equally few desire to hang it on their walls. That is the beauty of horror films – the monster is there on the screen, then, poof, when the lights come up they’ re gone, transient, and we can go back to our still-lifes, our landscapes, and our portraits of pretty women and fluffy animals.
Mind you, I like all of those. But I love ugly things as well. I love them so much, in fact, that I have always leaned towards drawing, painting, and printing them (not to mention studying, writing, and teaching about them – I am a political scientist who studies conflict, after all). My favorite influences tell the tale – just scribble these down and, when you have the chance, look them up in your art history textbook (or online, if books are a bit too arcane): Albrecht Dürer, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Diego Velázquez, Tōshūsai Sharaku, Hokusai, Francisco de Goya, Hans Holbein, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Hiroshige, Vincent Van Gogh, Egon Schiele, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Amadeo Modiglioni, José Guadalupe Posada, Frida Kahlo, George Herriman, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Walt Disney, René Magritte, Tex Avery, Edward Hopper, Charles Addams, Mary Blair, Anselm Kiefer, Theodor Geisel, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Edward Gorey, Jhonen Vasquez, and Gary Baseman. I love ancient Egyptian tomb art, ancient Greek pottery, Chinese sculpture, Arabic and Chinese calligraphy, Eastern Orthodox icons, sub-Saharan African masks, Central and South American pre-Columbian art, and of a heck of a lot of course outsider art, especially Art Brut. Oh, and the pleasures I take in scientific drawings – especially of birds, autopsies, and extinct life forms. The list isn’t exhaustive, of course, but you get the picture – beautiful is, well, everywhere. Ugly, done well, is rare and wonderful.
So beyond ugly, what is my art? Well, I’d say it is expressionist - drawing deeply upon my own emotional state, amplified often by music and unwise quantities of caffeine. It is also pop, drawing heavily from advertisement campaigns, comic books, cartoons, and newspaper strips. Throw in a healthy dose of surrealism and symbolism, impregnate it with heavy doses of political science and philosophy, and lifelong loves of theology, mythology, paleontology, history, and cryptozoology, and you have my art.
Fantastic, I know. The original meaning – not the contemporary one.