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Davis, California

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Visiting artist bridges art and commercial worlds

Not only is Owen Smith’s internationally recognized work on display at the Richard L. Nelson Gallery, but the artist himself will speak in Davis today.

Smith will host two talks – one at the Medical Science Center 180 classroom from 12:20 to 1 p.m. and another in the main room of the TCS building from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Both seminars are free and open to the public.

Smith is a Bay Area painter and illustrator, perhaps most famous for his frequent New Yorker covers. His work is representational and figurative, depicting exaggerated images of macho men and seductive women, said Renny Pritikin, director of the Nelson Gallery.

“He’s particularly interesting because he’s an artist who has one foot in the art world and the other foot in the commercial world,” Pritikin said.

Unlike most artists, Smith has paintings up in art galleries and also does magazine covers and illustrations for children’s books. In addition to The New Yorker, Smith has designed for Rolling Stone, Time and Sports Illustrated.

Pritikin said usually artists think entering the commercial world will be compromising or that their art will not be taken seriously. However, both the art and design departments are interested in Smith in part for this reason.

Smith will speak in Professor James Housefield’s History of Modern Design class at 12:20 p.m. today.

“This is a great opportunity for our community to hear a sought-after designer speak about the creative process,” Housefield said in an e-mail interview.

Pritikin said that Smith is a role model for students due to his integrity in his work.

“He is really uncompromising,” Pritikin said. “He does what he does, but he has found a way to make it in the commercial world.”

The commercial element will separate Smith’s talk from the rest of the art studio department’s visiting artist series. Typically, visiting artists will present a slideshow with their work from when they left school until the present. They will talk about the back-story and how they came to make it, and in Smith’s case, commercial opportunities.

Smith’s inspiration is rooted in the 1930s, particularly in pulp fiction covers of inexpensive magazines and books, Housefield said.

“It’s like looking at contemporary life through the lens of the 1930s, which is odd and interesting,” Pritikin said.

Housefield hopes students will hear Smith talk about his work and will also be inspired by the past.

“Ultimately, I hope that our students will look for common ties between the art and design of our own times and that of an earlier era of hard times like the Depression era 1930s,” Housefield said.

Smith’s work can be viewed at the Nelson Gallery now, allowing students to see the artist’s work in person and not just the slides that artists will present.

“Usually what happens is an artist comes from New York or Los Angeles and they do a talk with slides, but the students don’t get to see their real work,” Pritikin said. “Here is an opportunity to not only meet the artist but see their work and compare what they have to say with what their art really looks like.”

For Jamie Lew, first-year design major and student of Housefield, Smith’s back-story may be the most interesting.

“I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how passion leads designers into very different fields,” she said.

Smith’s work actively motivates the viewer to be inspired from the past, Lew said.

“The motivation for a designer is to create the future,” she said. “To create the future, you need to understand and appreciate the influence of history.”

JANELLE BITKER can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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