Artist’s Vision Illustrates Fruits of Hard Work

OLGA RAMAZ
El Vaquero Arts and Entertainment Edit

He manages to capture a rainbow with every brush stroke of paint, and in his paintings, vibrant colors, imaginative scenarios and peace ridden expressions. He makes up his own rules for work, life and especially his art. Jody Smith paints what he feels.

“My heart is in the simplicity and beauty of people and their surroundings,” said Smith.

He started drawing at a very young age. According to his mother, he was born with a crayon in his hand.

It was not until first grade that Smith started getting notoriety for his unusual approach to simple art projects, projects which he transformed into original works of art.

“We had to do papier-mAõche animals and put them in boxes,” he said. “Some kids did a horse with a farm background, some kids did a zebra in a zoo. I did a psychedelic squirrel in a toy store.”

Before pursing art full time, Smith spent a year in beauty school. He later found himself working as a hairdresser in his hometown of Houston, Texas, working for a company called Visible Changes. For nine years Smith was a part of the artistic team that would travel to Europe and New York, among other places, and style hair at various hair shows.

He claims to have been a hardcore stylist, managing to cut and style 20 people per day.

Two years after Smith started working at Visible Changes, he started taking some art classes, for disciplinary reasons. He felt that his art was lacking something.

“Every art class I’ve taken, I’ve walked away with a lot of knowledge,” said Smith. “Whether it is something that I use directly in my artwork or not, I’ve learned immensely from every teacher.”

Unfortunately, styling hair was not bringing the fulfillment that Smith was looking for. By the age of 30, Smith knew that he needed to leave Texas. On a total whim, Smith packed his belongings and moved to California for the first time in 1995, settling in San Diego.

Although he loved San Diego, Smith was not able to make things happen for him there. He quit his job and headed to Indiana.

He did not know anybody, only his partner and his dog. But little did Smith know that the town of Hogansburg would bring forth a new opportunity, one that would open doors for him when he returned to California yet again.

Back in Indiana, Smith started working with special needs students. He volunteered for the Special Olympics and started to work with a girl who suffered from Down syndrome. She loved to color, which led Smith to focus on art once again.

His return to California from Indiana in 1999 was triggered, for the most part, by a close friend who was suffering from AIDS.

Smith’s partner was very encouraging when it came to his artwork. He helped Smith get art jobs while Smith himself was active at getting a job working with people with special needs.

He soon landed a volunteer job in Reseda at Therapeutic Living Centers for the blind (TLC).

Smith immediately saw a need for an art program at TLC and within a month he was promoted to art instructor. As an instructor for an adult day program, he helped these special needs adults gain a sense of confidence and fulfillment in the arts.

His stint at TLC triggered Smith’s return to academia.

“Eventually I realized that even though I loved my job, I was driving really far and I was never going to make any more money than I made,” said Smith. “They’re [TLC] very strict on moving up, you had to have a degree and I didn’t have one. I decided that I would go to school full time and get painting jobs to help pay for school.”

He started attending GCC as a part-time student in 2002. Now, Smith takes on a full load of classes. He is in a hurry to move forward.

Aside from classes, Smith is also deeply involved with the art gallery on campus. His title is officially that of a student worker, but he is actually more than just another student worker at the art gallery.

Gallery director Roger Dickes considers him a gallery assistant, which in turn places more responsibility onto Smith.

“He is immensly helpful,” said Dickes. “He goes above and beyond the call of duty.”

Between his duties at the gallery and his duties as a student at GCC, Smith is constantly on the go and does not seem to stop. But, being a gallery worker does afford Smith a variety of experiences.

“It’s different everyday,” he said. “There are days when I sit with a textbook and study and there are days when I’m running around.”

Working at the gallery has also given Smith the opportunity to mingle with other artists, some of which have been featured in past gallery exhibits, opportunities which he believes would have not happened if he was not working at the gallery.

He is surrounded by art on a regular basis, in and out of school. Smith is currently working on three art pieces for collector Kevin Buxbaum.

All three pieces will have the Smith touch, vibrant colors and people, but they will also have world globes. Buxbaum travels a lot and he wanted to make sure that Smith incorporated this detail in the paintings.

Smith said that if he was not so busy with the gallery and school work, the Buxbaum’s paintings would be in near completion.

Smith said that some of the art pieces that still hang in several locations throughout Los Angeles, like at the L.A. Healthcare Credit Union and the labor and delivery unit at the Good Samaritan hospital, only took a day to complete.

His devotion to the art gallery is obvious, so much that it caused some sort of confusion in one of his gallery co-workers.

“He is so dedicated [to the art gallery],” said Narek Babayan. “At first I thought that he was the director of the gallery because he was there all the time.”

Dickes said that the gallery would not be thriving as it is without Smith’s help.

During the summer of 2005, Smith and Dickes worked feverishly to renovate the gallery. Dickes said that without Smith’s help, he would have quit.

Smith also single handedly renovated a space in the gallery and turned it into the Gallery Annex. Smith is in charge of scouting talent and exhibiting their works in this space as an addition to the concurring exhibition.

“[The Gallery Annex] is a perfect example of what Jody is all about,” said Dickes. “It’s great for him to be able to put together a show within the school community.”

His other responsibilities range from overseeing basic gallery duties, directing fellow gallery workers, to taking part in creative processes when it comes to setting up the main exhibits.

“You can tell he loves what he does,” said Babayan. “He drags you into it [work] and makes you love what you do too.”

Although Smith is just on the verge of transferring, at 41 he does not think that it is too late to accomplish even more things than he already has.

“I’m sure my achievements are small in comparison to what I’d like them to be, but I have just begun,” he said. “What I’ve done at this point is basically the frame work. I’ve built a frame and the picture is coming next.”