KC Painter Seth Smith Evokes Feelings With his Painting Series
Local painter Seth Smith evokes nostalgia and wanderlust with his oil painting series, Escape.
One of Seth Smith’s good friends once asked him why he paints. It was a simple question, but it blew the mind of the Kansas City artist and led him to a truth that he takes into account every time he steps in front of the canvas.
The simple answer is that he wants to make people feel.
“I want to make paintings that make people feel that they can connect memories and emotions to,” Smith says. “When they walk by them in their home or in their business, that they can have a smile or they can feel something; they can feel a great hopefulness or a depth.”
He’s always been keen on the power of feelings. While growing up on his family’s farm outside of Wichita, he had a lot of time to practice drawing. He doesn’t credit himself as being a talented kid, but it was the enjoyment he got from making and drawing things that gave him a buzz.
“I definitely had quiet time to let my mind run and drawing was the easiest way to express it,” he recalls. “There was artwork that my parents had, they were little prints of things that were very sublime, haunting to me. I saw the power of a picture on the wall, a painting or anything on a wall. And I always thought that that was something that I wanted to do.”
Smith’s work undoubtedly makes viewers feel something. His treatment of local destinations like Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Town Topic and YJ’s Snack Bar give them an out-of-town feel. But his most popular work has been his Escape series, a seven-plus year passion project that he created as a way to process changes in his personal and professional life.
Often depicting still, sun-soaked poolside scenes, the mesmerizing neon glow of motel signs, desserts and bustling beach crowds, Smith’s oil paintings are like larger-than-life postcards from paradises like the Florida Keys and California. They offer snapshots of life that evoke calm, and sometimes fond memories of a land filled with window-unit hums and poorly lit diners.
Escape draws inspiration from Smith’s fascination with motels and hotels, but also the feeling of vacationing and living a life that isn’t yours, bathing in life’s little moments and Charles Bukowski’s poem “Nirvana.”
“People have very strong ideas about going to a crappy motel,” Smith says with a laugh. “I like the stories. My fascination with motels and hotels is [that] so many different people come together and you jump in the pool together, you eat, you drink. Maybe you shared a bed last night with someone that you would never in a million years share a bed with. You don’t agree with them, but guess what? You were in the same room.”
Smith plans to continue the series until further notice. In fact, he has a trip to southern California lined up this month that will hopefully spark new additions to the series. On most days you can find him in his converted garage studio sketching ideas, but when one strikes — whether first thing in the morning or right before a show — he gets caught up in that buzz of creating and has to finish.
“I have to get it out,” he says. “If I have to cancel plans, I have to cancel plans. That’s just the way it is. Because that’s the thing that gives me life, I feel like it’s what I’m here to do.
For more information, visit sethsmithstudio.com.