I grew up on a ranch in northeastern Oregon. Each season brought with it its designated work responsibilities. The work seemed endless. As a boy, it was challenging to find the time to pursue my love of painting. Yet my parents always encouraged my artistic pursuits.
Three things most people don’t know about me are: I collect original comic art, including Western comics featuring Red Ryder and the Lone Ranger. I have never been to a barber; I have always cut my own hair (I know that sounds really scary). My wife and I once climbed to the top of the great pyramid in Egypt; we were arrested when we got down to the ground.
My heroes in art are Ernest Blumenschein, Maynard Dixon and Edward Hopper.
My Muses are quiet, reflective places, not necessarily those places many think of as beautiful, but often the overlooked places: plowed fields, ditch banks, open spaces, deserts.
The U.S. Army gave me a sense of discipline and order, and I hated every minute of it; although that is where I learned to draw with a pen—no erasing.
In plein air painting, I like the challenge of reducing things to their essence, organizing a composition and capturing those things that change quickly. I love the solitude and quietness in the couple of hours it generally takes to complete a painting. I treasure the times Ed Mell and I paint together.
As a fan of Maynard Dixon’s work, I have the good fortune of knowing Donald Hagerty, Dixon’s biographer and also the author of my book Holding Ground: The Art of Gary Ernest Smith. For my seven-foot statue of Dixon in Scottsdale, Arizona, I pictured him in his 40s, in his field dress. Don helped me get the image right, but also of great help was John Dixon, Maynard’s son.
The largest and most challenging sculpture I’ve ever done is of Superman. It is 4,500 pounds of bronze, 15 feet tall and stands next to the courthouse in Metropolis, Illinois.
Reading about the Lincoln County War gave me the desire to see the sites, which I finally did this April. With Bob Boze Bell guiding Ed Mell and I, the art trip was a dream come true.
We rode to Monk Maxwell’s ranch in April, following Monk’s friend Bill Jones’s dust-kicking horse trailer on a snake-like dirt road that crossed streams and brushed pinion trees. Monk and his wife greeted us at the house, and they told us harrowing story after story of his escapades. I did a sketch of Monk while we were talking and a more sustained painting later. He was one of the really authentic True West characters we met on the trip.
At the opening of Kevin Costner’s film Wyatt Earp, I presented him with a Wyatt Earp statue I had created, to thank him for belonging to Futures for Children, an organization that sponsors educational opportunities for American Indian kids. My wife was a little stunned one day when she answered the phone and Kurt Russell introduced himself. He wanted to know if he could get a statue too, since his significant other, Goldie Hawn, belonged to Futures. Kurt got a bronze also.
My Dad is 91, and he whistles little nonsense songs. He loves it when I come to see him. We always take an art trip and do a lot of photography. He still notices ripe hay in a field and the amount of its yield, and he still talks of the ranch. He’d like to do some gold mining on some claims we own. He’s in good health, lives alone and takes care of himself. He was known in the area I grew up in as the best looking guy on a horse.
History has taught me that we have a heritage in those who have gone before us, and that one’s family name is important.
Gary Ernest Smith, Artist
Gary Ernest Smith’s art will be featured in “Capturing Billy the Kid Country,” on exhibit at the Overland Gallery of Fine Art in Scottsdale, Arizona, on October 15, 2009. His sculptures include Maynard Dixon in Scottsdale, Arizona, Nashville record producer Owen Bradley in Nashville, Tennessee, and Superman in Metropolis, Illinois. His three-year exhibit, “Journey in Search of Lost Images,” hung in 22 museums and institutes across the United States. Smith paints at his studio and home in Highland, Utah, where he lives with his musician wife Judy. They have four children.