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Home FEATURES Casey Jex Smith

Casey Jex Smith
Written by Chris Pew   
Thursday, 06 July 2006 09:56
Chris Pew interviews this Oakland based artist who used to be a Mormon missionary in Brazil. We're pleased to bring this Detroit native and ex Mormon Missionary to the site. He's got a show opening up at Receiver Gallery here in San Francisco July 8, 2006 showing new works alongside Deedee Cheriel, (LA) Jeff Eisenberg (SF), Amanda Lynch (SF), and Keli Reule (SF)... Take a few minutes to read his interview conducted by artist Chris Pew. -Trippe


"Godhead"
22" x 30"
color pencil, marker, and pen & ink on paper

Chris Pew: Could you please introduce yourself. The who, what, where, why, when, and how if you will?
Casey Jex Smith: So I'm originally from Detroit, but was raised in Salt Lake City. After a year of design classes at Brigham Young University, I spent two years in Brazil as an LDS missionary (white shirt, tie, name tage, aka Elder Smith). Back from Brazil, parasite free, switched majors to fine arts and got my BFA in Painting and Drawing. For a year, I worked as a cook at a care center for mentally and developmentally disabled elderly folk while I put together my portfolio and applied to grad schools. The San Francisco Art Institute was the only school I got accepted to.

Can you explain your experiences at art school. Your times at Brigham Young University and your recent MFA from the SF Art Institue?
I don't know if you've heard of the Princeton review, but it ranks universities in atypical categories. BYU has been the reigning #1 most religious school in the country while SFAI rounds out the top 10 least religious. Besides that, not much of a difference between the two. Loved them both.

I understand you work at a hotel. How long have you been working there? How does this effect you being able to work on art? Do you find it easy to seperate these things? Or would you prefer a lifestyle where everything you do is about or involved with your art?
I've been working at the Woodfin Suites Hotel in Emeryville for about 8 months. It's my pennance for choosing an art career. I'm sure many out there know how it feels. We get all of Pixar's visitors at our hotel, and I get to check them in and send softer pillows to their rooms. So I guess I am involved in an art field in some way.

Your work also exemplifies your talent for being able to draw, have you ever thought about going into commercial art? Be it editorial, graphics, illustration or advertising.
I do some freelance illustration on the side for Williams Sonoma. I'm currently working on a drawing for a plate that spotlights a variety of winter vegetables. You know, squashes, carrots, turnips, and beets. I did their last Christmas collection. A dope pen & ink winter wonderlandscape with Santa Clause silhoutted against the moon. I like the people and they pay handsomely.

Do you hope to one day be a full time artist?
......(tear dripping down his cheek)....sniff....snifff....

Do you plan out your art concepts and layouts? Or do you just start drawing and let it flow?
A bit of both. I usually start with some reference material. Most often a bad piece of illustration from a religious publication. I then react against it in a way that I think is more appealing. And that always consists of some space to let things flow however they will. The immediacy of drawing is great for that.

Your work seems to cross a few different styles. Some abstract geometry morphing into buildings, somewhat like the Russian Constructivists, along with some hyper detailed markings of clouds and nature which reminded me of some Bruce Connor drawings. You've combined these styles and brought your own accounts into your work. How did this come to be?
I enjoy doing work in different styles and it fits my content. I see no reason to not put down anything that comes to mind unless it's a poor choice. I'm so glad you mention Bruce Connor, because his collages have had a big influence on me over the last couple years. His recent show at Paule Anglim was phenomenal. I was so pleased to see someone recontextualize those old religious etchings in a reverent way. (I already feel like I have to apologize for using the word "reverent")

With recurring elements of cathedrals, temples, clouds, fire and the consideration of the titles of a lot of your work, such as, "Heaven's Floodgates Open" or "Towards a New Zion," there seems to be a certain level of spirituality involved with your work. Would you mind explaining your thoughts on art and spirituality? As well as how it relates within your work?
Art is never the thing. It points somewhere. Where it points depends on the viewer. Most on hearing the phrase "art and spirituality" will shudder while some might get a spine tingler. A James Turrel sculpture can be felt as "spiritual" or "sublime". Your choice. It's both, and neither. I hate myself.

How do art and spirituality relate to each other?
Don't. No more than plumbing and spirituality. So I guess they do. Everything is related to spirituality.

What is spirituality?
Making meaning.

Where does it lie?
In the crust.

In the creative process?
Drawing. Sometimes painting. Never performance or sculpture. (photography doesn't even deserve to be mentioned)

In the artist?
Mormon artists.


"Church Drawings"
(done during my church meetings over the last several years)
bic pen on paper
8" x 6"

Spirituality goes along with absence of the ego. Do you put this concept in your art? Does it relate to your life and career as an artists?
Humans are selfish. We want to pleasure ourselves 24/7. Anytime we can put off the ego, we'll be better off. Art included. Most people know this and try to do it. But the Xbox games keep getting better and better. Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion !?! It's so hard.

Interpretation relating to your life? Or are you telling a story of what you see around you, meaning spirituality in our culture?
Yes and yes. Any personal struggle or triumph or ordinariness is not unique to me. Nor is the Old Testament only a history of the Jews five thousand years ago. Suffering and joy are universal concepts (although some suffer more than others, and that's why there must be a God or not, depending on your spin)


"Church Drawings" (done during my church meetings over the last several years)
bic pen on paper
8" x 6"

I understand that you been asked to participate in the "Sampling Oakland" show at Yerba Buena. Can you explain how that came about?
Caleb Rogers who curates over at LOBOT in Oakland recommended me. I had shown there a couple of times. It's a very unique space and vibe there. It's a great model for how art spaces could and should operate. Very organic in the good sense of the term.


"Tongues of Water in the Garden of Eden"
7.5" x 7.5"
pen & ink and color pencil on paper

With this in mind, I was wondering what you think of the local Oakland scene, the artists, the galleries, the patrons and the support for the arts in oakland?
It's been great to see the Oakland Art Murmur get going. I'm suprised every time by the number of people who come out to support it. A downfall is the financial pressure to keep those spaces going. It's seems like right when things are going well, the lease is up and the rent gets jacked. (33 Grand). I finally got over to Blankspace on 66th and San Pablo. Great space where Lucky Tackle was. I guess when one goes down, another one or two pop up. I've got a studio space at Swarm Studios at Jack London Square with John Casey, Alex Munn and many other fine Oakland artists. So far, it's been best studio experience I've ever had. Good people.

Any advice for aspiring artists?
Don't drink, smoke or have pre-marital relations.

Being a fairly recent transplant to the Bay Area, have you had a chance to explore Northern California?
I've gotten as far as Muir Woods. Beautiful.

If you could meet anyone, who would it be?
Jesus, Kerry James Marshall, or Karen O.

What was the last song you heard?
Some crap on 105.3.

What is your favorite word?
Frick.

What was the last place you saw art?
Blankspace Gallery.

For more information of Casey, check his site: caseyjexsmith.com {moscomment}

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