Allen Crittenden Smith is an abstract artist living in Elmira, New York. He works in bold colors and patterns, interweaving them to create fascinating pieces. He describes his style as minimalist abstraction that often leans toward landscape.
I started off the interview by asking Allen about the origins of his style.
Jason: How did you develop your style?
Allen C. Smith: I came of age at the end of the modernist era. I didn’t think I was influenced by the art world of the late 60’s, early 70’s, until I stepped back from my paintings and looked. I’m an aggressive painter. My advice to young artists: “Use bigger brushes. Paint faster. Don’t hold back!”
J: What drew you to your subject matter?
ACS: I keep my eyes open in nature and I’m inspired by music. While painting in the studio, I select the music that will drive the moment. Often I begin with traditional jazz – New Orleans or French – it gets me moving. By mid-day, I tone it down to classical. If I’m finishing a painting, I ratchet up to something like An American in Paris or the Grand Canyon Suite. If I need some grind to get through a spectacular abstraction, I might switch on Sleater-Kinney or electric Neil Young.
J: What is your medium?
ACS: Oils, watercolors, encaustics, and graphite.
J: What do you feel is unique about your work?
ACS: Frankly, I don’t think my work is all that unique. I consider myself a traditional painter. I try not to work “in the style of,” and I strive to create things that I have never seen in paint.
J: How did you get your start in art?
ACS: My family had many artistic friends, and I studied with three inspirational art teachers in high school.
J: Are there other artists in your family?
ACS: Yes: my son, both of my grandmothers, and my wife, Diane Janowski.
J: Did your family encourage your art?
J: How much art related education do you have?
ACS: BFA, Pratt Institute; MARK Program, New York Foundation for the Arts; museum-studies programs; and various professional development workshops and seminars with arts councils, Jason Horejs, etc.
J: Are you a full-time artist?
ACS: Yes, mostly. If I didn’t have to eat, I wouldn’t do anything else but paint, but life gets in the way. I offer curatorial assistance – appraisals, installation, art handling, etc. In the summer, I work on my wife’s family farm as a field hand – planting, cultivating, and harvesting.
J: How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?
ACS: I use all the avenues for exposure: exhibition, word-of-mouth, networking, postcards, website, social media, art fairs, etc.
J: What do you feel has been your greatest challenge in selling your work?
ACS: My greatest challenge has been breaking out of my regional entrapment. I live in a relatively inexpensive small city in upstate New York. Small populations mean very small art markets, so local sales are few and far between. And, hot shot gallerists don’t take you seriously. How could you be any good if you live in such a backwater?
J: What do you feel you’ve been most successful at in your art, and in your art business?
ACS: Making friends, encouraging artists, helping collectors.
East Hills, 2015, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches
J: What other jobs have you held?
ACS: I have enjoyed a lifetime career in the fine arts. My first professional position out of college was as a curator in a small city art museum. Next, I was sole proprietor of an art gallery/framing business for sixteen years. Then I was hired to establish an art handling/transportation business, which I managed for a decade. We worked with museums all over the Northeast. I’ve served as a director for not-for-profit and for-profit corporations, sometimes as president of the board. I have also swept the floors as a counter clerk and cleaned toilets while a carhop in a drive-in restaurant.
J: Do you have a daily routine?
ACS: Bathe, eat a good breakfast, check email, drive or walk to the studio, eat lunch, back to studio, shop, prepare a good supper, email, a little Netflix, sleep.
J: How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?
ACS: Presently, more than 40 hours a week.
J: How much work do you produce per month on average?
ACS: Depending on the time of year and which medium, 8 to 15 finished (framed) pieces per month.
J: What are your interests outside of your art?
ACS: Truth be told, I’d love to travel, but circumstances have made that difficult. On summer weekends, my wife and I like to drive to a local county park to soak up the sun and cool in the fresh water.
J: Who is your favorite artist from art history (and why), and which of their works is your favorite (and why)?
ACS: This is a tough question, because we all go through phases in our development and different artists inspire us at different stages. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and I thought that Dali and Pollock were the tops. Then I went to art school and was bowled over by Ellsworth Kelly and Brice Marden. As I’ve aged, I find excitement from Richard Serra and the glass sculptors, Libenský and Brychtová. But, I must say that while I produce abstractions, my favorite art style to simply enjoy is painterly representation.
Jason: Thank you for the insights into your work and career Allen! To view more of Allen’s work, please visit his website at www.allencsmith.com.