Interview with artist Grant Smith

grant_babe A few weeks back, I wrote a post about artist Grant Smith and his work.  Smith (seen left in front of his work entitled “The White Josh Gibson”) hits on the topic of baseball quite a lot in his art.  If you haven’t seen his work, take a look at http://grant9smith.com

Smith has had his art exhibited at the Chicago Baseball Museum and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.  He’s even sold some art to Johnny Damon.

Personally, I enjoy his particular style of art (like I said before, I’m no art critic but I know what I like). His view on baseball as seen through his art is unique and each of his paintings seem to tell a story.

Smith and I corresponded a bit over email and I learned a bit more about him and his art.  He graciously agreed to answer a few questions in a Q&A interview. 

The Baseball Zealot:  Give us some background in your artistic endeavors.  Do you do mostly oil paintings?

Grant Smith:  My family always encouraged my art and made a big deal out of everything I made. I know a lot of children are discouraged to pursue art because their parents are feel it is a dead end career that a person cannot make a living.  I use the paintings to delve into subjects that are unjust, ironic, or brutal. The polar opposite for me is baseball. No matter how much stress I have when I turn on a game it melts away. So they are about the battle between good and evil. I work in a few mediums, but oil is my favorite. I use acrylic paint as my first layer of colors called under painting. I use different methods of under painting depending on the mood or color scheme of the work. Oil allows for easier blending because it stays wet longer.

TBZ:  What is the history of your baseball interest?  What teams have you followed most intensely?

GS:  Baseball was a language and theme in my house, and most of my families homes. My great grandparents had a brownstone a few blocks from Wrigley Field, so they were huge Cub fans, as are everyone on my Mom’s side. My Dad’s side was from the South side of Chicago and so I thought I may be the first person to try to be both a Cubs and Sox fan. I wore a Cubs hat to Comiskey park in the late 80’s and had a beer poured on my head from the upper deck, so I quickly realized an allegiance needed to be formed with one or another. I went with the Cubs because there is nothing better than Wrigley Field or the Wrigley neighborhood in general. My grandparents Hugo and Dorothy Stracke loved the Cubs also, and every summer I would vist them and we would go to 3 or 4 Cub games. I also follow the Texas Rangers since the team is 20 minutes away from my home in Dallas, and was thrilled last year to see them get to the World Series.

TBZ:  It’s obvious that you use symbolism a great deal in your art.  More than that, it’s almost as if you use the symbolism to teach a message rather than leave it to the viewer to come up with their own interpretation.  Is that accurate? 

GS:  I like to have the paintings remain subjective, but their are leanings towards some sort of moral lesson or absurdity I want to stress. I have made paintings filled with Jim Crow signs, that are alarming to a person that did not know that existed. I have been at the same show and had a person see a Jim Crow painting and remark how great it was that I was making people confront big_weCanDreamracism, or bigotry that we all have stowed away in our subconscious. 20 minutes later another came over to inform me they didn’t approve of me being a racist and supporting Jim Crow laws. I can only speak for myself, people will come up with an interpretation based on their own life experience. I don’t want to spoon feed someone about the story, art should evoke some sort of emotion in the viewer.

TBZ:  Symbolism aside, I think it’s safe to say that your art work has an ‘edge’ to it.  It doesn’t always show the whitewashed, ‘pretty’ side of baseball.  What kind of responses have you gotten to your work?

GS:  I know I lose a lot of people by not sticking to the pretty pictures that most sports painters like to portray. I paint about Eddie Gaedel being beaten to death, or Pat Tillman being murdered, Rube Foster hanging himself in a mental institution, Jack Johnson and Jim Crow laws. Often there are interesting back stories on what drove a person to these extremes. The psychology interests me; what drives a person to abuse, or their reaction to abuse. These things go on all the time a lot of people would rather ignore them and pretend they don’t happen, I don’t want to have my head buried in the sand.If we confront them they are less likely to reoccur. I love the Charles Bukowski poem The Broken Shoelace. It is about the millions of miniscule disappointments a person has in life that accumulate and finally send a person to the madhouse. Here is a small portion.

It’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse
death he’s ready for
or murder, incest, robbery,
fire, flood.
No it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to a madhouse
not the death of his love, but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left"

Most sports paintings show the hero, mine the anti hero, how many times does the average person know what it’s like to be a hero? I feel they could connect better to my narratives. I’m working on a painting now called "The Piss" It is about an empty seat I saw in the Willie Mays photo from "the catch". About a guy who got up to take a piss at just the wrong time, but being at that game was the highlight of his life so he always lied about what a great view he had of Mays making the catch.

TBZ:  You sold some of your work to MLB outfielder Johnny Damon.  Tell us about that.  How did that come about?

GS:  One of my great friends is named Jeremy Taggart and he is a drummer in a band called Our Lady Peace. I was visiting Jeremy for a week in Toronto in 2002. We went to the Red Sox- Jays game, and afterward to a bar. I saw Damon and Jason Varitek standing at the bar, and went over and introduced myself. We talked for about 10 minutes, and I asked if they like Our Lady Peace. Damon was a big fan, so he wanted to meet the drummer and guitar player who were with me. We ended up hanging out the rest of the night, exchanged numbers, and he ended up buying quite a few paintings from me. In December of 2004 I went to his wedding in Orlando, they had just won the World Series, and the wedding party was a week long, and amazing time.

TBZ:  Your website is http://grant9smith.com .  On your website, you tell us that ‘9’ was chosen originally because of Ted Williams.  Why?

GS:  Ted always fascinated me, with the bigger than life personality, his obsession with hitting, his skill as a Marine fighter pilot. He was a big reason I joined the Marines. I started to read about numerology, and various metaphors and meanings of numbers looked to baseball to make my own meaning of the number. 9 players on a team, 9 innings in a game, 0 is the lowest numeral, 9 is the highest before additional digits are needed.So 9 is the prest before additional digits are needed. Sitting in a studio all day so I tend to think about bizarre stuff like this.

TBZ:  Let’s end on a corny one… If you were stranded on a desert island, what baseball art piece (painting, poetry, sculpture, anything) would you bring to remind you of the game you love?

GS:  That is great question, and a difficult one. I would cheat a bit and bring 2 from the same artist Raymond Pettibon. The first is titled Babe Ruth, and the second 0 for 40. I can go back to the text of these paintings and create different meanings numerous times. For me that is what makes art fun, turning it back on yourself, using your own experiences and life to make it your own.

Much thanks to Grant Smith for sharing his thoughts with us.  If you want to see more of Grant’s art, stop by his website at http://grant9smith.com. 

Art Credit: “We Can Dream” by Grant Smith

One Response to “Interview with artist Grant Smith”

  1. To your first point: the school district my kids attend place a high emphasis on art, music etc and I’m entirely thankful. So many see this as a extraneous or expendable activity and I don’t know how to tell them how wrong they are.

    Also, I love your story behind “The Piss”. I can’t wait to see it. Reminds me of the first major league baseball game I can remember going to. I was about six and while my mom went to to the restroom, Ernie Banks hit a grand slam.

    But *I* got to see it :-)

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