By Michael J. Solender
Oil painter Russell Smith has harnessed his love of history, aviation and the American West into an abiding passion for telling story through his artwork.
He’s spent most of the past two decades working as a professional oil painter, with a focus specifically on early aviation subjects. His work falls into two categories: portraits which depict aircraft in a manner that highlights its most attractive lines and shapes; and historical narratives which tell a story or depict a specific event.
“The two subjects complement each other nicely,” Smith says. “Aviation subjects allow me to create dynamic compositions with geometric forms and lines. I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of styles from World War I and I enjoy the challenge of creating historical narratives that are also works of fine art.”
Smith’s paintings are found in notable collections such as those held by film director Sir Peter Jackson, the Pacific Aviation Museum on Pearl Harbor’s historic Ford Island, the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Va., and Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte.
The award-winning artist’s work has also been featured in numerous exhibitions throughout his career, from the annual Western Spirit Art Show to the Oil Painters of America Annual Exhibition.
“In my late twenties I got my first taste of the American West as I began traveling to locations in South Dakota and Wyoming,” Smith says. “A new passion was ignited in my soul as I discovered the work of artists depicting life in the West and for years I have admired the exceptional work produced by many of these artists.”
Not surprisingly, Smith’s plans for his ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship involve deeper exploration and first-hand experience with his beloved American West subject matter.
“In the western art genre, high-quality work is characterized by an artist’s knowledge of the subject matter, its natural environment and the expressive quality brushwork,” Smith says. “An in-depth knowledge of the human figure, horse anatomy and of the characteristics of light on the western landscape all contribute to the artist’s understanding of the subject.
“The Creative Renewal Fellowship will allow me to attend two painting workshops – The Figurative Art Convention and Expo in Miami, Fla., and the Charles Dayton Painting the West workshop in Cokeville, Wyo.”
Smith also plans to attend the Shearer Artist Ride in South Dakota later this year.
“This event brings artists and re-enactors together in a western setting over a period of four days, during which time the artists can take photographs and create field studies while re-enactors serve as models with their various western accoutrements,” says Smith. “After a two-decade career of painting highly detailed aviation subjects, the transition to the looser style and new subject matter has brought with it a steep learning curve for me. It’s a quest for me to become more expressive and explore technique that expands my style.”
It only takes a brief exposure to Smith’s American West paintings to see what an accomplished student of the genre he has become.