moniquemeloche is pleased to present Arvie Smith: Call and Response. Spanning both galleries, the exhibition features a series of new and legacy paintings by the Portland, OR-based artist Arvie Smith and is the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.
Smith’s practice contends with the complex history of social and racial injustices in America. Born in Houston and raised in Roganville, TX and Los Angeles, Smith conveys the collective horrors, humiliations, and discriminations that Black people have suffered in the United States over the past 450 years. Fueled by a drive to be an artist at an early age, Smith started copying paintings of Michelangelo when his family moved to Los Angeles. He had a solo show at a bank at age 15 and was the school artist for its sporting events. Excited to continue his early painting career, Smith applied to an art institute but was abruptly dissuaded by a receptionist who said, “we don’t need your kind here.” He would go on to earn his BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art with a concentration in painting and printmaking in 1986, twenty-some years later. It was at PNCA where Smith met painter Robert Colescott–the first Black artist to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale–who influenced Smith’s approach to racial taboos and stereotypes through satire. Smith continued to earn his MFA from the Hoffberger School of Painting at Maryland Institute College of Art where he was a teaching assistant to abstract expressionist Grace Hartigan, who challenged him to raise his ambitions and reach for his canvases. He later returned to PNCA where he taught painting for over 20 years. In 2017, Smith received the recognition of professor emeritus and an honorary PhD from PNCA.
Smith’s wildly colorful paintings combine stereotypical Black images found in advertising and pop culture such as Aunt Jemima, Sambo, Bojangles, and Minstrel shows; historically taboo subjects such as interracial relationships; current and historical events referencing the history of slavery, the KKK, segregation, and police shootings; and Smith’s own experience to create lyrical 2-dimenstional master works. Chock full of identifiable symbols and figures, Smith’s warm-toned paintings are often inspired by epic tales from Greco-Roman history, through a fascination with stories intended to shape minds and behavior. Fittingly, Smith’s work is included in the affiliate exhibition at the Venice Biennale, The Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined at Palazzo Bembo, Venice through November 27, 2022.
Contextualized through paint, Call and Response evokes the oral tradition that enslaved Africans brought to colonized America. Firmly entrenched in African history, ‘call and response’ can be found in storytelling, religious rituals, protest, public discourse, children’s rhymes, and most notably music, in gospel, blues, R&B, rock and roll, jazz and hip-hop. Tapping into the spiritual significance that influenced and built upon African American culture, the act of call and response was a way to exchange stories about African life and create new lore about the American experience, shedding light on instances of hardship shared, unifying each other together. Smith embraces his ancestors’ songs using his art as resistance to call out embedded truths on America’s racial, social, and cultural history. As an American citizen and artist, Smith intends his work to be the “call,” a springboard for meaningful dialogue and understanding, soliciting the viewer’s “response” thus making space for us to collectively find the rhythm towards empathy by seeing others in ourselves.
In reflecting on his 4-decade career Smith remarks “I paint as an American of African descent, who grew up in the Jim Crow South and South-Central Los Angeles, and living in a white man's America, I paint. My narratives connect the present to the past, examining America's complex history of social and racial inequities. I have consumed a steady diet of racial injustices personally and collectively, providing an ever-growing catalyst for my artistic journey.”
Arvie Smith (b.1938, Houston, Tx) holds an MFA from the Hoffberger School of Painting, Maryland Institute College of Art and a BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art. Smith studied at Il Bisonte and SACI in Florence in 1983. He has had recent solo exhibitions at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Salem, OR; Jordan Schnitzer Museum, Portland, OR; and Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Portland, OR. His work has been included in group exhibitions at UTA Art Space, Beverly Hills, CA; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; and Upfor Gallery, Portland, OR. Smith’s work is held in the Permanent Collections of the Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; Delaware Museum of Art, Wilmington, DE; Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Baltimore, MD; Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Portland, OR; Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon, Eugene, OR; and Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art, Asbury, NJ. Smith is a recipient of the 2020 Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculpture Grant and the 2022 Hallie Ford Fellowship in the Visual Arts, The Ford Family Foundation Visual Arts Program.